What do a seventeen-year-old Pakistani, a Norwegian explorer, a Tibetan monk, and an American pastor have in common? They were all awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Among the top prestigious awards globally, this prize has honored some of history’s most celebrated and revered international figures and organizations.
We must go back to the 1800s to understand how it all started. Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel was mainly known for dynamite, a breakthrough that launched his career as a successful inventor and businessman. Thirty years later, he had become highly wealthy but never married and had no children. When his will was opened after his death, it was a surprise that his fortune would be used for five prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace.
These prizes illustrated his lifelong commitment to the sciences and his passion for literature. But what about peace? Because Nobel’s name was tied to inventions used in the war industry. Many have assumed that he created the Peace Prize out of regret. However, this is all speculation, as he never expressed such sentiments. His inventions were also used for constructive purposes.
How does the Nobel Prize work?
The six Nobel Prizes are awarded in peace, chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and economics each year. The prizes are named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. He decided who would judge the winners of each award and named the categories of prizes. Initially, there were five. Economics wasn’t added until the 1960s.
Today, the Nobel prizes are administered by the Nobel Foundation. They’re awarded in the fall after a rigorous selection process. So the list of winners in the different categories, especially in physics and chemistry, is like a hall of fame. For example, the winners in physics include Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Robert Millikan, Louis Victor de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg, etc. It’s a pretty prestigious list.
Today, each prize is valued at over a million dollars. It’s a big deal because of the size of the award, and the award’s been around since 1901. That’s long enough that everybody’s heard of it by now.
Why is Nobel Prize given?
Many historians connect Alfred Nobel’s interest in the peace cause to his decade-long friendship and correspondence with Bertha Von Suttner’s Austrian pacifist. Von Suttner was one of the leaders of the international peace movement, and in 1905, after Nobel’s death. She became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Nobel will outline three criteria for the Peace Prize, administered in Norway, unlike the other Sweden-based prizes. Disarmament, peace congresses, and brotherhood between nations. These standards have since been expanded to include ways of promoting peace, such as human rights and negotiations. The prize doesn’t have to go to one person.
Two or three laureates have shared about a third of Noble Peace Prizes. So how do nominations for the prize work? According to the Nobel Foundation, a valid nomination can come from a national assembly, state government, or an international court. Eligible nominators include university rectors, professors of the social sciences, history, philosophy, law, theology, and previous Peace Prize recipients.
All information about nominations remains secret for 50 years. Take Martin Luther King Jr. We didn’t know who nominated him until 2014. His nominators turned out to be the Quakers, who had previously won the prize, and eight Swedish Parliament members.
There’s no limit to the number of times a person or organization can be nominated. Jane Addams, recognized as the founder of social work in the United States, was nominated 91 times before finally being awarded the prize. The absence of a laureate can also be symbolic.
The 1948 decision not to award the prize following the death of Mahatma Gandhi has been interpreted as an attempt to honor the so-called missing laureate respectfully. The Peace Prize can’t be awarded posthumously as with the other Nobel Prizes. The secret selection process takes almost a year and is carried out by the five appointed members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. They are forbidden from having any official political function in Norway.
Starting with a large pool of nominations exceeding 300 in recent years, they access each candidate’s work and create a shortlist. Finally, the chairman of the Nobel Committee publicly announced the laureate in October.
The awards ceremony takes place on December 10th, Alfred Nobel’s death anniversary. The prize includes a gold medal inscribed with the Latin words, “Pro pace et fraternities gentium,” or “For the peace and brotherhood of men,” a diploma, and a large cash prize.
- 23 organizations and 103 individuals, 87 men and 16 women, have made up the 126 Nobel Peace Prize laureates in history.
Recently, it’s been 8 million Swedish kronor, or roughly a million US dollars, split in the case of multiple laureates. While laureates can use the prize money as they choose, many have donated it to humanitarian or social causes in recent years.
The Nobel Peace Prize was predominately awarded to European and North American men for many years. But in recent years, significant changes have occurred, making the prize more global than ever.