The WDO Interfaculty Ethnological Debating Society, WDO for short, was established on 5 November 1928. This makes it an octogenarian, therefore, and a senior citizen, but it definitely doesn’t make it old enough to rest on its laurels.
WDO has a rich history spanning the eight decades of its existence. It started out as a discussion group for students who wanted to carry on talking about anthropology and ethnology after lectures had finished. It wasn’t open to just anyone. First-year students were taboo, and new members had to prove themselves by giving a convincing speech about a proposition given to them by the members. Debates were held between the regular members and a number of guests, generally in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden or at the home of one of the board members. Careful records were made by hand, and these can be found in the WDO archive, a steel filing cabinet on the third floor of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Leiden University.
Over the years, the formal aspects disappeared with the first flush of youth. One thing that is here to stay, however, is the gavel belonging to the WDO chair. Used to keep order in the past, it’s more of a showpiece on special occasions and a point of reference in the story of the mysterious letters W, D and O. WDO has the gavel to thank for its name: when the gavel was presented to the first chair, the letters were already engraved on it. What the letters stand for is still the subject of much discussion and creative ideas (Where Debate Originates?)
Since the founding of the Itiwana study association, the two have worked closely together. Some years later, they had even made the arrangement that all members of Itiwana automatically become members of WDO. WDO also reports on its duties in Itiwana’s annual report.
WDO organises a monthly discussion evening on anthropological and sociological themes. Sometimes these are modest occasions in the attic of a café or at someone’s home that attract only a small group of people. Sometimes these are big meetings that spark the interest of dozens of people. And sometimes the discussions are put on hold: during the annual Wulavogelveldwerkavond, for instance, an evening when, upon their return, master’s students relate beautiful, sad, upbeat or embarrassing stories from during their fieldwork in the contest for the Wulavogel prize.
A central focus of the meetings is exchanging ideas and visions, discussing the discipline and giving Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology students from different years the opportunity to meet. Regardless of whether the evening that we organise is big, small or, above all, fun, anyone is welcome, first years included.