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.


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