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The Aspen Institute

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Created in 1949 by Chicago businessman, Walter Paepcke, the Aspen Institute has evolved over the decades into what it is today—an important educational and policy studies organization. The impetus behind creating an organization like the Aspen Institute, was a desire on Paepcke’s part to explore important issues with thought leaders of diverse backgrounds and professions, and to begin to rehabilitate the reputation of high German culture in the aftermath of World War II.

In 1949, Paepcke actualized his idea in a celebration of the 200th birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The resulting three-week festival, the Goethe Bicentennial and Music Festival, brought many luminaries of the day to Aspen, including Albert Schweitzer, in his only visit to the United States, author Thornton Wilder, Jose Ortega y Gasset, and the renowned Russian pianist Arthur Rubinstein.

Today, the Aspen Institute provides a well-regarded and impartial forum that invites discussion of topics of crucial importance in today’s world, including education, national security, the environment, technology and more.

Their annual programs in Aspen include the Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen Security Forum, the McCloskey Speaker Series, the Great Books Series, and the Teen Socrates program.

Aspen Ideas Festival

Taking place each summer in late June and early July, the Aspen Ideas Festival is the flagship event of the Aspen Institute. Leaders from all sectors—government, business, education, science, and art—convene in Aspen for insightful and inspiring conversations and presentations. In past years, the Festival’s roster of participants has included:

  • Madeleine Albright
  • Ehud Barak
  • Tony Blair
  • Stephen Breyer
  • Bill Clinton
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Sylvia Earle
  • Salam Fayyad
  • Eric Fischl
  • Bill Gates
  • Theaster Gates
  • Murray Gell-Mann
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Al Gore
  • Alan Greenspan
  • Yo-Yo Ma
  • Sen. John McCain
  • Sandra Day O’Connor
  • Henry Paulson
  • Biz Stone
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Lawrence H. Summers

Aspen Security Forum

Held each summer in late July, the Aspen Security Forum focuses on the latest issues in national security. The Forum presents discussions with senior staff, both former and current, in the US Department of Homeland Security, Defense, State, and other relevant departments. Also featured are speakers who are considered thought leaders and insiders in the security and counterterrorism industries, with backgrounds ranging from journalism to finance.

Past speakers include:

  • Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Jim Comey, FBI Director
  • Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA and NSA
  • Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Caroline Krass, General Counsel to the CIA
  • Loretta Lynch, US Attorney General
  • John McCain, Senator
  • Michael Rogers, NSA Director

McCloskey Speaker Series

A summer lecture series, the McCloskey Speaker Series brings intellectuals, innovators, and big thinkers to Aspen. Past speakers include Jimmy Carter, Sandra Day O’Connor, Elena Kagan, Condoleezza Rice, Hank Paulson, Brian Greene, and Evan Williams.

Great Books Series

The Great Books Series is a weekly discussion of books that define the best of Western literature. Held in late winter over a 5 week period, the Great Books Series has explored the works of Plato, Aristotle, William Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Paul Sartre, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, and Franz Kafka. Each discussion is moderated.

Teen Socrates Seminar

Held in the summer and winter, the Teen Socrates Seminar invites High School students between the ages of 15 and 17 to the Aspen Institute campus for 3 days of debate and discussion on contemporary issues. Past topics include constitutional law, the US Supreme Court, Shakespeare’s works, economics, the environment, energy, and philosophy. The seminar is moderated by experts in the respective topics.

Interested in learning more about Aspen Institute events and programs?

Guests can contact the Aspen Square Hotel concierge team at 1-800-862-7736 EXT. 3515, or send an email to, and they will let you know about any events that will take place during your stay with us. Non-guests may contact the Aspen Institute directly at (970) 925-7010.