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Umberto Eco

Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities 2000

Umberto Eco (Alessandria, Piedmont, Italy 1932 - Milan, Italy, 2016), PhD in Philosophy from the University of Turin and expert in Semiotics. He worked in cultural programmes at the RAI from 1954, and focused his work towards publishing and the essay form in 1959. He was assistant lecturer in Aesthetics between 1962 and 1965, first at Milan and then at Turin University. During this time he also commenced his activities in what was called The Group 63, publishing essays on contemporary art (The Open Work -Opera Aperta- in 1962), mass culture and the media (Apocalypse Postponed - Appocalittici e Integrati-, 1965), and collaborating in different publications. He obtained the Chair in Semiotics at the University of Bologna in 1971. In February 2001, he created the University School of Humanistic Studies in this city. The “superschool”, as it is known in Italy, is an academic initiative for outstanding graduates aimed at spreading international culture. He was also secretary (and founder, since 1969) of the International Association of Semiotics.

He published his first novel, La Struttura Assente, in 1968. It dealt wholy with the theme of semiotics, and led on to his most complete work on the subject, the A Theory of Semiotics - Trattato di Semiotica Generale-, in 1975. However, fame amongst the general public came in 1980, through a novel, The Name of the Rose, which won several awards and was then made into a film. He later also published the novels Foucault’s Pendulum (1988), The Island of the Day Before (1994), Baudolino (2000), The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2004) and The Prague Cemetery (2010). He has also cultivated other genres such as the essay, where he stands out particularly for titles such as The Absent Structure (1968), The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (1979), Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984), Travels in Hyperreality (1986), The Open Work (1989), The Limits of Interpretation (1990), Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1990), Misreadings (1993), The Search for the Perfect Language (1995), Kant and the Platypus (1999) and Five Moral Pieces (2001).

Holder of honorary degrees from thirty-eight universities around the world, including the University of Liege (1986), the Complutense University of Madrid (1990), the University of Tel Aviv (1994), the University of Athens (1995), the University of Warsaw (1996), the University of Castile-La Mancha (1997), the Free University of Berlin (1998), the University of Seville (2010) and the University of Burgos (2013), he was a member of the International Forum of the Bureau of the Executive Board of Unesco and was distinguished with various decorations and awards, such as the French Legion of Honour. He joined the European Academy of Yuste in 1998.

Holder of the Gold Medal for Merit in Culture and Art (Rome, 1997); Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Rome, 1996); Pour le Mérite for Science and Arts; Commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters; Strega Prize; Prix Médicis; Premio Bancarella; Austrian State Prize for European Literature; honorary member of the James Joyce Association, the Academy of Science of Bologna, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Royal Academy of Belgium, and the Polish Academy of Learning. Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford; and Member of the Accademia dei Lince. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize on several occasions.

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