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Conference on World Affairs collection

Identifier: COU:3805

Scope and Contents

This collection is organized in five series: I. Programs (1957-) — Includes original programs and photocopies, with notes related to session sound and video recordings. II. Sound recordings — Session and plenary tapes from 1957 and 1959-1984 are reel-to-reel. Tapes from 1984-1998 are sound cassttes. Also includes sound cassette recordings of CWA committee meetings, 1978-1989. III. Video recordings (1987-1998) — VHS recordings of select sessions. Some tapes contain audio only on VHS. VI. Photographs. V. Files, including two subseries: (1) General files and (2) files by conference. VI. Oversize scrapbook - United Nations Week/CWA scrapbook, 1949-1951.


  • 1948 - 1999

Conditions Governing Access

Select material has been digitized from this collection and is available through the CU Digital Library:

All analog sound recordings and video formats film held by the Archives must be digitized for research access, due to preservation concerns. If these materials have not previously been digitized, the researcher is responsible for the cost of digitization. Researchers may request access to previously-digitized audiovisual materials that are not online on the CU Digital Library by contacting

Copyright Statement

The University Libraries may not own the copyright to all materials in this collection. Researchers are responsible for contacting the copyright holder(s) for this material and obtaining permission to publish or broadcast. The University Libraries will not grant permission to publish or broadcast this material and are not responsible for copyright violations resulting from such use.

Historical Note

The Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder was founded in 1948 by Professor Howard Higman (1915-1995) of the Sociology Department, to address issues of world events as they emerge through media. The week-long combination of plenary addresses and panel discussions were free to attend and open to the public. The annual conference grew to have over 100 panels over five days, drawing attendance of over 20,000 per year.

Unlike academic conferences, the CWA did not include scholarly presentations. Instead, Higman’s original formula for conference panel discussions would consist of (1) an expert on a topic, (2) a panel member with a controversial opinion on the topic, (3) a member of a related field with interest in the topic, and (4) a panel member who know nothing about the topic. While panels were chaired by either CU professors or Colorado residents, all panel participants were required to be from outside of CU and Colorado. Participants were invited through personal contact networks of CU organizers, were housed and fed at various Boulder homes, and were not paid honoraria for participating. Early conference sessions reflected the interests of faculty and students after World War II in political, economic, and foreign affairs topics, including NATO, the Cold War, America’s post-war international role, the United Nations, atomic energy, and McCarthyism. By the 1960s, the conference began to emphasize the participation of Black, Chicano, and Indigenous people. In the 1970s, it expanded to include topics of lifestyle, culture, art, and music. Film critic Roger Ebert hosted the conference’s “Cinema Interruptus” event from 1969 to 2006. In the 1980s and 1990s, the conference had an annual series inspired by and drawing on the legacy of architect and systems theorist R. Buckminster Fuller.

By the 1990s, University faculty called for a reorganization of the Conference, arguing that the traditions of the conference and its reliance on personal contact networks led to a lack of diversity among participants and often supported out of touch, politically incorrect speakers. The 1995 Conference was postponed while the University demanded changes, and long-time director Howard Higman died on November 22, 1995.

In 1996, the Conference was revived by the University under new direction. It has since developed a more formalized leadership structure with dedicated input from students and Boulder community members on the CWA program committee.


196 linear feet (Record boxes, 1 oversize box)

Language of Materials



The Conference on World Affairs is a one week event at the University of Colorado at which journalists, scholars, writers, musicians, government officials, and international figures meet to discuss world, national, local and personal affairs. The materials in the collection (1948-1998) include programs, audio tapes, video tapes, photographs, papers, and one oversize scrapbook.

Processed by Harvey N. Gardiner, 2002; edited by Kerry Petrie, 2010, and Jamie Marie Wagner, 2021
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States