The social and cultural dynamics of awarding the Nobel Prizes

This project applies recent advances in computational text analysis to examine the process of awarding the Nobel Prizes in science and literature.  

Nobel prize ceremony 2018.Nobel prize ceremony 2018. Photo credit Alexander Mahmoud

Every year the awarding bodies for the Nobel Prizes face a seemingly impossible decision. For each prize they must choose one winner (or sometimes two or three) from a much longer list of possible worthies.

This project treats the awarding of Nobel Prizes as an organizational process, one in which the awarding organizations, their committees, and the external nominators work together to create a hierarchy of merit. In the realms of science and literature, judgements of merit can be based on many criteria, most importantly the perceived intellectual or social value of a nominee’s contributions. But other considerations inevitably enter into the process, such as the identities of the nominees and their strongest supporters.

In order to disentangle these factors, this project examines the nomination records and committee reports for the science and literature prizes science and literature prizes from 1901 to 1969, the most recent year available under the Nobel statutes. By applying recent advances in computational text analysis to the Nobel Prize nomination materials and the vast trove of textual output written by and nominees and nominators, it is possible to identify the intellectual preferences of nominees, nominators, and the awarding bodies, as well as to map out their far-flung social networks connecting them to each other.

This project has been made possible by the generous support of Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and Vetenskapsrådet.

  • Related researchers: Jacob Habinek, Elida Ibrahim, Paul Schuler, and Tangbin Chen

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International symposium on literature in the Nobel Era

In August 2021 the German Literature Archive in Marbach will host an international symposium entitled “Literature in the Nobel Era: Comparative, Theoretical, and Archival Approaches to the Nobel Prize in Literature."

The Nobel Prize in Literature is the most widely known and most prestigious literature prize worldwide. Since its first distribution in 1901, the prize has established itself as the epitome of cultural value. Considering this stature of the Nobel Prize, it is all the more remarkable that its ways of functioning and actual influence on the global literary field remain little known and poorly understood.

Taking recent scholarship on awards and vocational prizes, recognition and esteem, comparative literature, and the sociology of literature as a starting point, we have invited scholars from around the globe in the fields of literary, comparative and cultural studies, sociology, book history, as well as other researchers whose area of expertise is relevant to the study of the Nobel Prize. We will meet from the 25th to the 28th of August at the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Germany.

More information can be found on the official website of the symposium.

The symposium is cooperative undertaking of the Institute for Analytical Sociology, Bielefeld University, the Swedish Academy, and the German Literature Archive. It is funded with the generous support of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the Swedish Academy.

  • Related researchers: Jacob Habinek