A New Interactive Visualization of the 165,000 Most-Frequently Assigned Texts in College Courses

For some of us, it’s been a lit­tle while since col­lege days. For oth­ers of us, it’s been a lit­tle while longer. We might find our­selves ask­ing, if we hear news of on-cam­pus activism and unrest (sure­ly unheard of in our day)—

“Do they still read the clas­sics down at old Alma Mater U.?”

Maybe that’s the prob­lem, eh? Too much Marx­ist the­o­ry, not enough Pla­to? Well, you may be pleased, or not, to learn that clas­sics still regularly—routinely, even—appear on col­lege syl­labi, includ­ing both The Repub­lic and the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, in cours­es taught all over the world, from San Anto­nio to Tokyo to Karl­skro­na, Swe­den.

As we informed Open Cul­ture read­ers in 2016, Colum­bia University’s Open Syl­labus Project culled data from over 1,000,000 syl­labi from uni­ver­si­ty web­sites world­wide, to find out which books have been most fre­quent­ly taught over the past decade or so. Since then, that num­ber has risen to 6,000,000 syl­labi. Still, the most-taught books at the top of the list remain large­ly unchanged.

As two of the project’s direc­tors point­ed out soon after the site’s launch, “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, [Sopho­cles’] Oedi­pus and [Shakespeare’s] Ham­let.” These num­bers have moved a lit­tle, edged down­ward by writ­ing and research guides, but not by very much.

William Strunk­’s clas­sic writ­ing guide Ele­ments of Style sits at num­ber one. Oth­er top titles include cal­cu­lus and anato­my text­books, oth­er works of Enlight­en­ment phi­los­o­phy, and texts now cen­tral to the West­ern crit­i­cal tra­di­tion like Mar­tin Luther King, Jr.’s “Let­ter from Birm­ing­ham Jail,” Michel Foucault’s Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, and Edward Said’s Ori­en­tal­ism.

The top 50 is almost total­ly dom­i­nat­ed by male writ­ers, though some of the most fre­quent­ly-taught nov­el­ists include Jane Austen, Toni Mor­ri­son, Anne Moody, Leslie Mar­mon Silko, and Alice Walk­er. The most-taught books tend to fall into either phi­los­o­phy, lit­er­a­ture, text­book, or guide­book, but the over­all range in this list of 165,000 texts encom­pass­es the entire scope of acad­e­mia around the globe, with more con­tem­po­rary study areas like gen­der stud­ies, media stud­ies, dig­i­tal cul­ture, and envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies promi­nent along­side tra­di­tion­al depart­ments like physics and psy­chol­o­gy.

A new inter­ac­tive visu­al­iza­tion from Open Syl­labus turns this trove of data into a col­or-cod­ed stip­pling of dif­fer­ent-sized dots, each one rep­re­sent­ing a par­tic­u­lar text. Float over each dot and a box appears in the cor­ner of the screen, show­ing the num­ber of syl­labi that have assigned the text, and a link to a pro­file page with more detailed analy­sis. Called the “Co-Assign­ment Galaxy,” the info­graph­ic does what a list can­not: draws con­nec­tions between all these works and their respec­tive fields of study.

The Open Syl­labus Project was already an impres­sive achieve­ment, a huge aggre­ga­tion of freely acces­si­ble data for schol­ars and curi­ous laypeo­ple alike. The addi­tion of this user-friend­ly clus­ter map makes the site an even more indis­pens­able resource for the study of how high­er edu­ca­tion has changed over the past decade or so, and how it has, in some respects, remained the same. Enter the Open Syl­labus Project’s Co-Assign­ment Galaxy map here.

via John Over­holt

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The 20 Most Influ­en­tial Aca­d­e­m­ic Books of All Time: No Spoil­ers

How to Read Many More Books in a Year: Watch a Short Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Some of the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Book­stores

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Tony says:

    Ele­ments of Style at No. 1??? A piece of garbage that has been screw­ing up writ­ers for decades. If you doubt, give a read to “50 Years of Stu­pid Gram­mar Advice” .

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.