70th Anniversary

Marshall Plan for the Mind
Cold War Crossroads
Globalizing World
People and Power
Intellectual Reconstruction

In the summer of 1947, for the second time in just thirty years, Europe was in the midst of recovering from a devastating conflict. Economic rebuilding was desperately needed, but three young visionaries believed that intellectual reconstruction was also vital.

"The Harvard Student Council has quietly organized the first general experiment in international education in postwar Europe... It is organized to provide for the most immediate physical and intellectual need of European students and scholars... Their stay at Leopoldskron should strengthen these young men and women in their faith in a reconstruction of Europe on a democratic basis.”

Thus was the audacious plan of three Harvard men – graduate student Clemens Heller, college senior Richard “Dick” Campbell and young English instructor Scott Elledge – in the summer of 1947. That same year, the US government had announced the European Recovery Program, a.k.a. the Marshall Plan, to rebuild Europe economically. Theirs was a plan to rebuild Europe intellectually – a “Marshall Plan for the Mind.”

Originally conceived as a one-off summer program, the “Salzburg Seminar in American Civilization” was to be an opportunity for a divided Europe “to see who one was, what one believed in, what others believed in and to create a basis for future collaboration.” The subject matter to be discussed was American studies – encompassing economics, politics, literature and sociology  – a neutral topic for the former adversaries to examine, debate and dissect.  

To bring their vision into fruition, the three founders needed faculty, funding, a location and participants.  

The faculty came mostly from Harvard University: Literary historian F.O. Matthiessen was the first to join, and helped recruit others including Nobel Prize-winning economist Wassily Leontief, government professor Benjamin F. Wright and acclaimed Italian historian Gaetano Salvemini. Heller’s connections helped bring on board the “mother of anthropology” Margaret Mead, who agreed to co-chair the ten-strong faculty alongside Matthiessen.

The Harvard administration, however, was less enthusiastic. Harvard President James B. Conant remarked: “I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.” Support and partial funding came instead from the Harvard Student Council. Private donors, spurred by the founders’tenacity, provided the rest.

Originally from Austria and a well-connected family, Heller sought an Austrian location. Serendipitously, that winter, he encountered an old family friend on the New York subway: Helene Thimig, the widow of Austrian theater impresario Max Reinhardt. Thimig had recently had Reinhardt’s property, including Schloss Leopoldskron, restituted after its Nazi Aryanization in 1938, but had little desire to return to the palace following her husband’s death in exile during the war. Impressed by Heller’s passion, she loaned Schloss Leopoldskron, in Salzburg, part of the American occupied zone, for the first session.

Participants were recruited by Heller and Elledge, who travelled across Europe in the spring. Campbell, confined to a wheelchair after an almost-life-ending accident in high school, was the operation’s chief letter writer. The “Fellows” were advanced students who were teaching, had entered public life, or were intending to do so, and selected “on the basis of past scholarly achievement, with no regard to political, religious or racial considerations.”

Finally arriving in Salzburg, they found a Schloss in near-abandonment. Neither the indoor plumbing nor the electric lights were working. Windows had been shattered, chandeliers destroyed, exterior stucco and interior walls riddled with shrapnel. To ready the Schloss for the arrival of 97 Fellows from 18 countries, window panes were sourced from Czechoslovakia, plumbing supplies from Italy, and mattresses, iron cots and blankets from the Red Cross and the occupying American army, together with food parcels from World Student Relief-International Student Service in Switzerland. Books were brought by the American faculty and student-administrators or loaned by the US Information Service libraries in Europe. The Americans were also encouraged to bring supplies such as razor blades to share with the Europeans.  

The community of Fellows brought together that summer was war-weary and wary of each other. Only two years earlier, many had been bitter enemies – now they were to study and live together for six weeks. What began with some tension became, as Matthiessen put it, “an island of peace in a storm-clouded sea.”

Opening the session, Matthiessen reassured the Europeans and Americans gathered, “none of our group has come as imperialists of Pax Americana to impose our values on you.” Instead the program would consider not only the strengths of America, but also its “excesses and limitations.” The food may have been mostly potatoes and cucumbers, but, as an Italian Fellow said: “intensive mental nourishment was superabundant.”  

“What we did was not done with the intention of creating an institution,” admitted Heller decades later. So sure were the founders that this would be a one-off that Fellows were encouraged to take away the collected library books. But the “risky experiment” was recognized as such a success that it was decided the “Salzburg Seminar in American Studies” must be “continued as a permanent center.”

From Idealist Experiment to Eminent Institution

It may not have been the founders’ original plan, but the 1950s saw their idealistic experiment become a fully-fledged institution, attracting people of prominence and promise from Europe and America to learn from each other across diverse fields.

After three summer sessions, the experiment was deemed successful enough to legally incorporate in 1950 as a Massachusetts non-profit – the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies. The Seminar was now an institution, complete with an advisory board, staff and a (part-time) president – Dexter Perkins, a history professor at the University of Rochester and later Cornell. They had offices in Cambridge, MA, and a home (albeit not yet permanent) at Schloss Leopoldskron. Most importantly, there was the vision shared with the three founders: to bring together Americans and Europeans, across post-war divides.

Margaret Mead had written a glowing review of the first summer’s program, and later coined the phrase: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” This was embedded in the Seminar’s ethos from its beginning.

Despite the success of their first summer, not all the founders returned. Elledge gained a teaching post at Carleton College, MN, USA. Campbell did return for the second session but in a reduced role due to ill health. The biggest absence was that of Heller. The driving force behind the project was refused travel papers to return to US-occupied Salzburg on the grounds that he was a “dangerous ‘red’.” They did, however, remain engaged from overseas.  

In their place, new administrators were appointed. In 1949, one successful applicant was Harvard student Herbert P. Gleason. As clerk of the Seminar after his graduation in 1950, “Herb” was a signatory of the original incorporation papers and remained a member of the board of directors until 2010. Gleason, among others, was an early advocate of expanding the program of studies. Grants from the Commonwealth Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation enabled the Seminar to grow from an annual summer program to several sessions a year, which in 1950 focused on sociology, social relations, literature, music, and theatre, in addition to the General Session in American Studies. While more specialized, these early sessions were still all based in the study of America and its culture and institutions, with faculty coming from the US and Fellows primarily from Western Europe. (Between 1950 and the mid-1960s, diplomatic relations made recruitment from Eastern Europe almost impossible.)  

The program continued to diversify and the summer of 1953 saw the establishment of one of the Seminar’s longest-running series – American Law and Legal Institutions – which ran every summer for decades, bringing in prominent American jurists and legal scholars, including a great number of US Supreme Court judges – both on the bench and prior to their appointment.

The participation of those who showed great promise alongside those who were already prominent in their field was not only the case of the law sessions but across all programs. Many Seminar alumni thus rose to prominent positions of their own. Notable faculty members of the period included Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow; then-Harvard professor and leading Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Kaplan; diplomat and Yale president Kingman Brewster Jr.; political scientist Hans Morgenthau; poet laureate Robert Lowell; literary critic Ralph W. Ellison (who was the first African-American to serve on the faculty); and renowned historian Henry Steele Commager. Scott Elledge returned as faculty in 1953, as did many other early Fellows.

By the mid-1950s, the Seminar was well-established and gaining an eminent reputation, but its home at Schloss Leopoldskron was by no means secured. There were several scouting parties to other locations in Europe as the future of the Schloss looked uncertain. Finally, after two years of protracted negotiations, the Schloss was sold by Thimig to the City of Salzburg, which in turn sold it to the Seminar in 1959 for $92,350 (equivalent to $1m in 2017).  

Throughout his tenure, Perkins was determined to keep American studies at the center of the Seminar. However, with his retirement and the appointment of retired naval officer Arthur S. Adams as president in 1962, a shift began.

Marshall Plan for the Mind
Cold War Crossroads
Globalizing World
People and Power
Bridging Divides and Expanding Horizons

The Cold War period saw the Salzburg Seminar grow in importance as a neutral space in the heart of Europe. The era also saw the Seminar grow thematically, with the adoption of a “common problems” approach; geographically, with recruitment of Fellows from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia; and physically, with the purchase of the Meierhof.

With Austria seen as a crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe, the Salzburg Seminar provided a natural place to bridge Cold War divides. Diplomatic pressures had made the recruitment from Eastern Europe almost impossible from 1949 onwards. As successive presidents expanded the Seminar geographically and thematically, however, openings appeared. Through efforts initiated by Seminar president Arthur S. Adams, and augmented significantly by his successors Paul M. Herzog (the Seminar’s first full-time president), Thomas H. Eliot, John “Jack” W. Tuthill and Bradford Morse, the Seminar recruited Fellows from further afield and began to address topics beyond the study of America, its culture and institutions.

Geographic expansion was aided primarily by private foundations, starting with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and their $100,000 for staff travel to recruit Fellows. Before the age of online applications, session recruitment was done largely face-to-face through connections at leading universities, government ministries and embassies. Thanks to Adams’ efforts, Fellows started to come from Greece, Turkey and Spain. Under Herzog, two years of diplomacy finally enabled Fellows to travel from “behind the Iron Curtain” in 1966. Those four Czechs were followed in 1967 by Fellows from Hungary and Bulgaria, and in 1968 by Fellows from Romania.

The 1970s saw the first Fellows come from Central America and Africa, but it was in the Middle East and later Asia that the Seminar made its most concerted recruitment efforts. Previously a US Ambassador, Tuthill recognized that the Middle East could benefit from the same neutral meeting place as former European enemies had in 1947, and thus launched an extensive outreach program, specifically to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. By the mid-1980s, Palestinian and Israeli Fellows were attending programs together. As a Jordanian Fellow wrote in 1979, “If the world recognized the extent of affection and understanding that can be generated by human interaction, it would denounce and abandon forever wars and hatred. The Salzburg Seminar is a forum whereby such a realization can be easily obtained.”

Asian recruitment was accelerated as former UN Development Programme (UNDP) head Morse took over the presidency in 1986. This was greatly aided by a million-dollar contribution to the Seminar’s endowment by the Japanese Shipbuilding Industry Foundation (today known as The Nippon Foundation). Several other philanthropic organizations, including the Ford, McKnight and Mellon Foundations, also contributed greatly to help bring more Fellows from further afield. Financial support also came from both the US and Austrian governments.  

Support from private individuals has long been of central importance to the Seminar, dating from the initial funding contributed by students at Harvard University. In 1973, board members, alumni, and the widow of former Vice President Amory Parker rose to meet another challenge: the purchase of the neighboring Meierhof building. The additional property, which required extensive renovations over.two decades, provided the Seminar with a large conference room in a space that had once served as the apartment for Max Reinhardt’s brother and business manager, Edmund. Aptly named Parker Hall, the Seminar now had a central place for major lectures and plenary sessions.  

The expansion of the Seminar’s reach was accompanied by the expansion of its session themes. Originally a forum where Europeans could learn about, debate and dissect America, in the 1960s the Seminar adopted a “common problems” approach. Rather than focusing on American studies, Fellows came together “to exchange experiences, to explore differences, to seek out consistent – though rarely identical – solutions for problems that plague and puzzle men on both sides of the Atlantic,” as Herzog explained in 1966.

Long-studied subjects such as literature, politics and education began to lose the “American” from their session titles (American Law and Legal Institutions remained steadfast). More non-American experts were introduced to the faculty, bringing new perspectives. Innovative sessions such as The Social Impact of the New Technology and Planning and Development of the Urban Community were held. (The latter birthed the Salzburg Congress on Urban Planning and Development (SCUPAD), which continues to hold annual conferences at Schloss Leopoldskron.) Recurring session topics were established, covering international trade, health and health care, civil society and gender issues.  

By the end of the Cold War, the Salzburg Seminar had become a vital place for leading cutting edge conversations on free markets, democratic transition and civil society. For many Fellows, attending a Salzburg session was a crucial juncture in their professional development en route to becoming leading figures in their own countries. As maps were redrawn post-1989, political institutions overhauled, and new systems of societal engagement established, the Seminar was there to play, as the then-Chairman of the Board, Lloyd N. Cutler said, its “small but unique and catalytic” part.

Marshall Plan for the Mind
Cold War Crossroads
Globalizing World
People and Power
Supporting Transitions and Transformations

A globalizing world called for a globalizing Salzburg Seminar. No longer focused on American Studies, the Seminar moved eastwards and southwards, tackling common concerns from economics and education, to the environment and peace-building.

As the velvet revolutions of 1989 ushered in a new era, the Salzburg Seminar’s focus shifted eastwards, towards the burgeoning democracies of Eastern Europe and the fast-rising economies of Asia, and southwards to post-Apartheid South Africa and the sustainable development of the tropics.

The Seminar sought to support these transitions by building networks among Fellows to aid their professional growth and by designing programs and initiatives that applied Salzburg-based learning to progress on the ground.  

Alongside regular sessions, such as Economies in Transition and European Integration After the Cold War, the Seminar organized dedicated programs supporting post-Cold War reforms. One historic example came in 1990 when the Seminar was asked to assist the Czechoslovakian government draft a new constitution. In typical Salzburg fashion, the resulting session brought together not only Czechs and Slovaks but also leading statesmen and constitutional experts from the US, Western Europe and Asia. 

As the former president of Middlebury College and US government advisor on Soviet relations, Olin Robison, who assumed the presidency in 1991, envisaged a role for the Seminar in re-establishing the intellectual capacity of higher education institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Supported by large grants from the Hewlett and Kellogg Foundations, the Universities Project and Visiting Advisors Program brought senior academics, administrators and government ministers from the region together with their counterparts from Western Europe and North America for practical discussions on university administration, governance and finance. These discussions were held in symposia in Salzburg and through on-site visits across the region. These were not academic conferences but rather gatherings of peers from both East and West, discussing issues of common concern and building lasting networks.

Recognizing the opportunity for shared learning between the reforming economies of Eastern Europe and the emerging economies of Asia, the Asia Initiative was launched in 1993. In 1997, the Freeman Foundation initiated what became a 15-year project to convene rising Asian and American academics to discuss topics such as foreign policy and trade relations.  

The Global South also became a greater focus for the Seminar. The end of Apartheid in South Africa saw increasing numbers of Fellows from that country and from the wider Southern African region. A partnership with EARTH University in Costa Rica produced five annual special sessions entitled Sustainability, Education, and the Management of Change in the Tropics, held in Salzburg, Costa Rica, Uganda, Thailand and Norway, as well as additional practical workshops in Uganda, Senegal, Thailand and Indonesia. EARTH university’s founding president, José A. Zaglul credited the partnership with “internationalizing EARTH” and making it an early leader in rethinking agriculture to support environmental sustainability.

True to its post-war roots, the Seminar continued as a place of post-conflict bridge-building. A one-off “Peace Symposium” in 1998, brought Fellows from conflict-ridden countries, including those involved in ongoing peace negotiations. A powerful moment came when a known Irish Republican made an earnest plea for reconciliation that “left the room in a stunned silence.” He then went on to talk privately at length with his British Unionist adversary. The groundbreaking “Good Friday Agreement” was signed mere months later. Taking another approach, the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR) brought together historians from opposing sides of conflicts, such as Israel-Palestine, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, to try to craft shared historical narratives. The IHJR was spun off and became an independent organization in 2009.  

The Seminar’s historic ties to America were not forgotten during this period: The Salzburg Seminar American Studies Center (A SC) was founded in 1994. Funded by an agency now part of the US State Department, seven years of sessions were held covering topics as diverse as American literature, foreign policy, and IT’s role in education. The Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) was subsequently established in 2004. Originally aimed at ASC alumni, SSASA has since expanded its programs’ outreach and is now a leading member of the American Studies Network, an association of 17 independent centers for American Studies in 11 European countries.

The Seminar’s American origins coupled with an increasingly global outlook were exemplified by the founding of the International Study Program on Global Citizenship (ISP) in 2004. The ISP brought together students (not early or mid-career professionals) from population groups underrepresented in leadership echelons. These participants, identified as future leaders by their universities, attended a week-long program at the Schloss examining America’s place in an increasingly globalized world. Additional programs for faculty and administrators helped turn whole campuses into sites of global citizenship.  

The world of 2006 would have been unrecognizable in 1989: the ubiquity of the Internet, the increasing tension between the West and the Islamic world, the expansion of international fora like the European Union and ASEAN to include formerly communist neighbors, illustrated a seismic shift. But as the world changed, so too did the Salzburg Seminar.

Marshall Plan for the Mind
Cold War Crossroads
Globalizing World
People and Power
2005 -
Thoughtful, committed and courageous citizens

Globalization has propelled hundreds of millions out of poverty but capital remains tightly concentrated. As the transformative power of technology intensifies, Salzburg Global Seminar supports innovation that extends the benefits of progress. Reaching across borders and sectors, we engage individuals and institutions who share a commitment in shaping a better world.

Today’s world faces a multitude of challenges that both reach globally and impact locally: from climate change and disruptive technological innovations, to democratic disengagement, rising political extremism and financial crises. To effect positive transformation, the world needs responsible, proactive and innovative global leaders, but also “thoughtful, committed citizens” at all levels of public life and private institutions.  

To reflect its increasingly global role and the interconnectedness of the world’s challenges, the Salzburg Seminar changed its name in 2006 to Salzburg Global Seminar. Today, Salzburg Global bridges divides between countries as well as among generations, social backgrounds, and sectors.  It encourages leaders to accept personal responsibility for finding solutions and opens doors to collaborative thinking and action.  

When he was elected president in 2005, Stephen L. Salyer became the first Fellow to serve in the post, having attended The Social Impact of Mass Communications in 1974. The former head of Public Radio International in the US, Salyer stressed a problem-solving and social innovation direction for the organization. He received backing from the board of directors to not only change the organization’s name but also to introduce a greater outcome-oriented focus, overhaul the organization’s operating structure, and revamp its mission: “to challenge current and future leaders to solve issues of global concern.”

Salyer established initiatives to strengthen independent media and to optimize institutional philanthropy. As part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-funded Salzburg Media Initiative, a new summer academy was founded in 2007. A decade later, the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change brings students and faculty from university partners on five continents together with media innovators and journalists to harness media to global problem-solving. Recent topics for the three-week summer program have included Migration, Media & Global Uncertainty (2016) and Voices Against Extremism: Media Responses to Global Populism (2017).

In addition to the Media Academy, Salzburg Global designs other multi-year programs to foster young leaders. In 2012, the Cutler Fellows Programwas established to honor Salzburg Global’s long-serving board chairman, Lloyd N. Cutler, and his legacy of convening leading judges and rising practitioners from across the world. The now annual program selects outstanding students from top US law schools to explore public and private international law and public service. Meanwhile, in the arts and culture sector, young innovators across the world are providing creative impulses for social improvement and sustainable development.

The Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI Forum) was launched in 2014 to engage creative change-makers in the arts and turbo-charge their vision, talent and energy at the community level. Beyond an annual session held at Schloss Leopoldskron, the YCI Fellows collaborate in their city “hubs,” of which there are now 19 on six continents. This community-based approach, wherein Fellows establish local networks and implement projects at city or regional level, is also embedded into another program currently in development and due to launch in 2018 addressing the need for innovation in the public sector.

Salzburg Global engages both present and rising leaders in tackling issues across diverse but often interrelated fields – including education and health care innovation, LGBT human rights, financial regulation, corporate governance, and environmental sustainability. In recent years, Salzburg Global’s work on these themes has been channeled into multi-year series designed to transform individual thinking as well as institutional strateg y and performance. These series have the benefit of continuous engagement and support by leading partners, such as the Mayo Clinic (Health and Health Care Innovation), Educational Testing Service (Education for Tomorrow’s World), the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (Parks for the Planet Forum). Funding for corporate-focused series such as the Forum on Finance in the Changing Worldcomes from sponsorship consortia that include leading financial services companies, law firms, regulators, consultancies and academic experts.  

Philanthropic support from organizations and individuals for Salzburg Global’s sessions is today boosted by the highly successful Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron – home to Salzburg Global’s core programs and major convocations, but also a destination venue sought out by individual guests and external clients. In 2014, the Meierhof underwent major renovation and an overhaul of guest services. The result is an award-winning hotel, a unique venue for strategic convening and conscientious stewardship of an Austrian National Historic Monument. Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron is truly an inspirational place where free inquiry and expression abide.  

In today’s volatile, interconnected world, what Salzburg Global Seminar offers is more important than ever. Its relevance to global problem-solving and development of tomorrow’s leaders, and its growing base of individual and institutional supporters, ensures its prominence as a place where “thoughtful, committed citizens” can continue to shape a better world.

To the Salzburg Global Seminar Website