The Open Syllabus Project Gathers 1,000,000 Syllabi from Universities & Reveals the 100 Most Frequently-Taught Books

syllabus explorer

Ear­li­er this week, we high­light­ed The 20 Most Influ­en­tial Aca­d­e­m­ic Books of All Time, accord­ing to a recent poll con­duct­ed in Britain.

Now comes the Syl­labus Explor­er, a new web­site cre­at­ed by the Open Syl­labus Project at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty. Impres­sive­ly, the Syl­labus Explor­er has gath­ered 1,ooo,ooo+ syl­labi pub­lished on uni­ver­si­ty web­sites, then extract­ed and aggre­gat­ed the data found in those doc­u­ments, all for one rea­son: to deter­mine the most­ly fre­quent­ly-taught books in uni­ver­si­ty class­rooms.

Writ­ing in The New York Times, Joe Kara­ga­n­is and David McClure, two direc­tors at the Open Syl­labus Project, explained that the Syl­labus Explor­er “is most­ly a tool for count­ing how often texts [have been] assigned over the past decade.” Using fre­quen­cy as a proxy for influ­ence, the Project assigns an over­all ‘Teach­ing Score’ to each text, pro­vid­ing anoth­er met­ric for gaug­ing the impact of cer­tain books.

Accord­ing to Kara­ga­n­is and McClure, the “tra­di­tion­al West­ern canon dom­i­nates the top 100, with Plato’s Repub­lic at No. 2, The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo at No. 3, and Franken­stein at No. 5, fol­lowed by Aristotle’s Ethics, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Oedi­pus and Ham­let.” What’s No. 1? The Ele­ments of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. (Find them all in our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks.)

As for the most fre­quent­ly-taught nov­els writ­ten dur­ing the past 50 years, they add:

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” ranks first, at No. 43, fol­lowed by William Gibson’s “Neu­ro­mancer,” Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” Ms. Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” San­dra Cisneros’s “The House on Man­go Street,” Anne Moody’s “Com­ing of Age in Mis­sis­sip­pi,” Leslie Mar­mon Silko’s “Cer­e­mo­ny” and Alice Walker’s “The Col­or Pur­ple.”

It’s worth not­ing that, despite its name, the Syl­labi Explor­er does­n’t cur­rent­ly give you access to actu­al syl­labi for rea­sons hav­ing to do with pri­va­cy and copy­right. You only get access to the sta­tis­ti­cal aggre­ga­tion of data extract­ed from the syl­labi. That’s where things stand right now.

When you vis­it The Syl­labi Explor­er, check out this visu­al graph and be sure to zoom into the visu­als.

If you’re a teacher, you can share your syl­labi here. If you have mon­ey to spare, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to this valu­able open source resource.

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Comments (12)
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  • Steve Reilly says:

    Cool list!

    Minor cor­rec­tion, but the para­graph about Toni Mor­ri­son and the rest is about nov­els from the last 50 years, not nov­els in gen­er­al. Franken­stein, Heart of Dark­ness, and The Great Gats­by all rank high­er.

  • daniel says:

    Thank you for shar­ing this!

  • Stephen says:

    Your num­bers have to be some­what skewed. You have “Huck­le­ber­ry Finn” and “The Adven­tures of Huck­le­ber­ry Finn” list­ed as two sep­a­rate titles. Those num­bers should be com­bined into one list­ing.

  • Elizabeth Lugin says:

    Free for the read­ing… only in Kin­dles or oth­er elec­tron­ic ways?

  • Excel­lent idea. Thank you for shar­ing this

  • Laura says:

    An arti­cle post­ed about lit­er­a­ture by, I assume, an Eng­lish major that needs editing…blatant gram­mat­i­cal errors…what a shame.

  • Anar says:

    Where is the Bible in the list?

  • Jack Waldron says:

    Oedi­pus, by Sopho­cles, is list­ed twice under two titles, and if com­bined would make it rank at the #2 slot. Also, “to deter­mine the most­ly fre­quent­ly-taught books in uni­ver­si­ty class­rooms”, is gram­mat­i­cal­ly wrong. I think you mean to say “most fre­quent­ly taught”. Oedi­pus The King is the title of the work, often reduced to just Oedi­pus. The sto­ry being a part of the tril­o­gy, which con­tin­ued with Oedi­pus at Colonus, and con­clud­ed with Antigone. There are oth­er ver­sions of the myth/tragedy by oth­er authors, and some of them are called sim­ply, Oedi­pus.

  • prashant says:

    ques­tions pepar

  • Caleb Smith says:

    Also been men­tioned, but in the music sec­tion, the three largest points are all Stravin­sky’s Rite of Spring, just spelled dif­fer­ent­ly. Who should we tell to try to fix this?

  • NR says:

    there are some parts of syl­labi added now. for exam­ple, the ‘syl­labus of the month’ at the moment has a read­ing list and some instruc­tion­al mate­r­i­al from a law sub­ject about race issues from 1994 taught by a cer­tain Pro­fes­sor Oba­ma in Chica­go.

  • Guilherme de Sa says:

    The book Ethics of Aris­tote­les is cit­ed as one of the 10 most demand­ed books in Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties. But, except for decep­tion, there are two books on ethics writ­ten by Aris­to­tle: Nico­machean Ethics and Eudemi­an Ethics. What would be the Ethics book cit­ed in the project? Nico­machean Ethics and Eudemi­an Ethics? Or were they both?

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