History of WDO


The Beginnings

The ‘Interfacultary Ethnological Debate Association WDO’ (in short WDO) was established in Leiden on November 5th, 1928. WDO was founded by the first generation graduate students of J.P.B. de Josselin de Jong (1886-1964), professor of ethnology at Leiden University from 1922 to 1956. The purpose of founding this student debating club was to extend discussions on ethnology beyond the lecture halls. Meetings took place monthly, usually in student houses, sometimes in restaurants or public places (like the National Museum of Ethnology). The lectures or papers were held and presented by the student members themselves, or by invited guests.

Post-World War II

After a sharp rupture during World War II, the WDO enjoyed a strong revival with an active generation. For example E. Postel-Coster, A.A. Trouwborst, R.T. Zuidema, and R.A.J. Buve went on to occupy professorial posts in the Netherlands and abroad. They introduced the mockhospitium, an introductory speech by new members on an anthropology subject suggested by the board. They also invented the dispuutsgeest, a masked character who livened up meetings with ghost appearances, drums beating and quasi mystical sayings.



In the following decades the WDO remained a considerably stable factor in the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Sociology of Non-Western Societies, established in 1956 at Leiden University, nowadays the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology (CA/DS). Today, WDO’s formula still appeals to anthropology stu dents in Leiden, who are meeting on just about the same basis as in 1928. Monthly discussion meetings are organised, with an informal character or, alternatively, with (at times prominent) external speakers. Traditions of a recent vintage are the ‘Wulavogelveldwerkavond’ (fieldwork storytelling) and an annual national inter-university debate. Since the founding of the student organisation ‘Itiwana’ in 1993, the WDO works closely together with this more general association for CA/DS students.


More than 80 years WDO

On special 5-yearly anniversaries (lustrums), the board of the WDO since the early days often organised national or even internatio nal conferences, sometimes resulting in important publications. The 80th birthday of the WDO in 2008 again provided us the opportunity to organise a major event, that drew not only the students of our study and former WDO members, but also students and scholars of other anthropology institutes and associated social sciences. A solid program with excellent key-notes and sharp debates made the Symposium "Anthropology and Controversy" celebrating 80 years WDO a truly memorable event. After all this time the WDO is still going strong, and heading for it's next lustrum in 2013.


The name of the WDO is derived from the gavel, presented to the first chairman of the debate group in 1928. What the letters ‘W’, ‘D’ and ‘O’ mean, remains a mystery.