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For Our World Literature Teacher Friends this Summer

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A World Literature Assignment on Nobel Prize and More

By Kevin Anthony Stoda

Project and other ideas for high school teachers

A curriculum unit on the Nobel Prize in World Literature using the internet resources and primary readings (The unit will include this paper and bibliography.)


The idea of promoting and recognizing great humanitarian contributions to the world in terms of sciences, medicine, literature, and society, i.e. in the form the international prizes for peace, came to Alfred Nobel near the end of his life. However, it is likely that the one person with the singular important influence on Alfred Nobel was Bertha Kinsky von Chinic und Tettau (later von Suttner). She had originally signed on to become the great philanthropist's personal assistant in 1876. The subsequent two decades of written correspondence between Nobel and von Suttner, helped leading him to use most of his great wealth to found what the world sees now as it's most prestigious peace prize. In short, a chance meeting in Paris and the eventual hiring of a Miss Tettau, (later von Suttner) as Alfred's personal assistant in 1876 has certainly proven to be beneficial coincidences in modern humanity.

The first stages of Alfred Nobel's life had been less than easy. Born 1833, in the very year that his father's first firm went bankrupt, Alfred eventually moved with his family to St. Petersburg , Russia , where his father had started working under the Czars as a mechanic. By 1850, young Alfred moved on his own to Paris and began to work in a private laboratory. Soon he was establishing his own business contributions to the family's new found wealth, especially after his travels to Germany and Italy in the early part of that decade created for him important business and research connections. With his family firm's patenting of nitroglycerine in 1863, great profits were beginning to come in for the Nobels.

However, tragedy soon hit Alfred and his family again in 1864 as his own brother, Emile, was killed in Heleneborg , Sweden . Emile had been working on nitroglycerine at the time. Looking for a new way to handle nitroglycerine more safely, Alfred's laboratories invented dynamite, patenting the invention in 1867. By the 1870s, Nobel had become a wealthy man. He had established firms, not only in his homeland, but in France , Italy , Germany , the UK , and the United States . He had, meanwhile produced a series of patented blasting camps that had enabled him to move back to Paris , where he established Socià tà Gà nà rale pour la Fabrication de la Dynamite. Although the killing power of his inventions were well-known in his own day, Nobel saw himself as a businessman and observed that his original intentions for such explosive inventions was in industry and mining, not in war-making, which was becoming too common in his own day.

As noted above, Paris is the city where in 1876 the pacifist, Bertha von Suttner crossed paths with the wealthy patriarch, Alfred Nobel, head of many international corporations and the great Nobel family estate. Born with the family name Tettau, Von Suttner had many military men in her family. Bertha von Suttner eventually became the first female recipient of the Nobel Peace prize in 1905. Importantlly, becides being an activist, she was also an author, who used her fictional writing skills to help finance many great peace conferences, such as in Den Haag, excursions to encourage peace education in the USA, and peace campaigns in the decades leading up to the turn of the century(--and right through WWI).

One of von Suttner's more serious writing efforts was Das Maschinenzeitalter [The Machine Age], which, "when published early in 1889, was much discussed and reviewed. This book, criticizing many aspects of the times, was among the first to foretell the results of exaggerated nationalism and armaments." That very same year, she also published, Die Waffen Nieder [Lay Down Your Arms]. This work struck a chord with even more hearts and minds--i.e. as Suttner had intended. In this particular novel, Bertha von Suttner created a novel whose "heroine suffers all the horrors of war; the wars involved were those of the author's own day on which she did careful research. The effect of published late in 1889, was consequently so real and the implied indictment of militarism so telling that the impact made on the reading public was tremendous."

Meanwhile, through a series of now-famous correspondences with Alfred Nobel, von Suttner was making major contributions leading to continued debate on the merits of his own inventions and the chances of helping the peace movement with his legacy, especially in terms of promoting greater individual and societal sense-of-responsibilities for waging peace as well as war in the Nobel name.


According to Sven Tagal, "When Alfred Nobel's will was made known after his death in San Remo on 10 December 1896, and when it was disclosed that he had established a special peace prize, this immediately created a great international sensation. The name Nobel was connected with explosives and with inventions useful to the art of making war, but certainly not with questions related to peace."

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KEVIN STODA-has been blessed to have either traveled in or worked in nearly 100 countries on five continents over the past two and a half decades.--He sees himself as a peace educator and have been-- a promoter of good economic and social development--making-him an enemy of my homelands humongous DEFENSE SPENDING and its focus on using weapons to try and solve global (more...)

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