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Balzan Prize 2023

In 2023, the Prize is being awarded in the subject areas of world literature; high resolution images: from planetary to cosmic objects; evolution of humankind: ancient DNA and human evolution; and evolution of humankind: paleoanthropology. In addition, the special Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace, and Fraternity among Peoples is awarded.

Review: Balzan Prizewinners Interdisciplinary Forum 2023

On 16 November, the Balzan Prizewinners Interdisciplinary Forum 2023 took place in Bern. Numerous guests were present as the four prizewinners presented the scientific work for which they were awarded the Balzan Prize 2023. In the morning, Eske Willerslev and Jean-Jacques Hublin spoke on the evolution of humankind, Willerslev on ancient DNA and humam evolution and Hublin on paleoanthropology. In the afternoon, the topics were world literature - for which David Damrosch was honoured - and high-resolution images: from planetary to cosmic objects, presented by Heino Falcke. A recording of the entire event can be viewed online.


Photos: Kassem Belkalem

The Balzan Prizewinners 2023

David Damrosch

Balzan Prize 2023 for World Literature

A literary globetrotter

When asked about his work, David Damrosch says he focuses on literature from between roughly 2000 and 2015. Between 2000 and 2015 BCE, that is. Having studied works ranging from the Epic of Gligamesch, the Hebrew Bible, visions of medieval Belgian nuns, and Aztec writings to works by Kafka and the Chinese intellectual Hu Shih, Damrosch’s literary interests know practically no boundaries of time, language, or culture. Damrosch is Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, and he founded Harvard’s Institute for World Literature in 2010. This year, he is being awarded the 2023 Balzan Prize for World Literature. With this prize, the General Prize Committee recognises Damrosch’s “creative approach to world literature as a transnational circulation of works that remain alive because they are embraced and changed beyond their culture of origin”. In addition, the committee acknowledges his “stupendous knowledge of Western and non-Western literatures in all their geographical breadth and historical depth”.

Heino Falcke

Balzan Prize 2023 for High resolution images: from planetary to cosmic objects

Making black holes visible

A historic milestone was witnessed at a press conference in 2019: Heino Falcke revealed the first image ever captured of a black hole. An astronomer at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Falcke is being awarded the 2023 Balzan Prize for High Resolution Images: from Planetary to Cosmic Objects. With this prize, the foundation recognises Falcke for being “the first to envision imaging the immediate surroundings of a black hole, and for his leadership of the ‘Event Horizon Telescope’”. The jury calls attention to the fact that “this telescope produced the sharpest images ever of what surrounds black holes in the distant galaxy known as M87 and in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, thereby validating Einstein’s General Relativity in situations where gravity is so strong that spacetime is significantly curved”.

Jean-Jacques Hublin

Balzan Prize 2023 for Evolution of Humankind: Paleoanthropology

A connoisseur of human nature

A few years ago, Jean-Jacques Hublin and his team discovered in Morocco the oldest fossils of modern humans on record, a discovery that demonstrated that Homo sapiens existed 100,000 years earlier than was previously thought. The French paleoanthropologist has spent years intensely studying the human species and, together with Svante Pääbo, who is last year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Hublin is a founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. This year, Hublin is being awarded the 2023 Balzan Prize for Evolution of Humankind: Paleoanthropology for the “importance of his discoveries in the field, notably that of the oldest Homo sapiens in Africa; and for his ability to synthesise data from cutting-edge technologies”. With this prize, the Balzan Foundation also recognises Hublin’s “skills in organising scientific teams, notably as head of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig; and for his qualities as a teacher and populariser”.

Eske Willerslev

Balzan Prize 2023 for Evolution of Humankind: Ancient DNA and Human Evolution

A time traveller

What did Greenland look like two million years ago? This question was answered in December 2022 by Eske Willerslev and his research team from the University of Copenhagen. Using state-of-the-art technology, the Danish evolutionary geneticist was able to show that Greenland had truly earned its name: it was once a green island teeming with life. This year, Willerslev is being awarded the 2023 Balzan Prize for Evolution of Humankind: Ancient DNA and Human Evolution for his “studies on human DNA with an evolutionary perspective focusing on population mobility and migrations and thus to a large extent contributing to transform our understanding of human history”. Furthermore, the General Prize Committee recognises Willerslev for “leading the way in using ancient DNA (from teeth) to identify human pathogens and for retrieving DNA directly from environmental samples, opening a new scientific field”.

Fondazione Francesca Rava

Balzan Prize 2023 for Humanity, Peace, and Fraternity Among Peoples

Helping children in need

This year, the Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace, and Fraternity among Peoples is being awarded to the Fondazione Francesca Rava in Italy. After Rava was killed in an accident, her sister established the foundation in 2000 with the aim of helping children in need – in Italy and worldwide – by supporting aid projects, child sponsorships, and educational programmes. The foundation partners closely with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, a charitable organisation that cares for orphans and vulnerable children in Latin America. With the prize, the Balzan Foundation honours the Fondazione Francesca Rava for its commitment “in emergency interventions following humanitarian and natural disasters in Italy and Latin America (in cooperation with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos) and for specific initiatives taken in favour of children in Latin America to combat educational and food shortages”.

Florim Ceka

Reference person Balzan Prize


Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences

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