The Open Syllabus Project has collected over 1 million college syllabi, according to the New York Times. Analyzing that data, they have compiled a database of texts used in college classrooms and just how often they are used.

The architects of the project hope their data will shed new light on “teaching, publishing and intellectual history.”  It will also allow all of us to better compare today’s college curricula to those of the past.

Below are the top 20 most taught works in college classrooms. Visit the Syllabus Explorer to see the full list.


1. The Elements of Style

Strunk, William, 1869-1946


2. Republic



3. The Communist Manifesto

Marx, Karl, 1818-1883


4. Biology

Campbell, Neil A., 1946


5. Frankenstein

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851


6. Ethics



7. Leviathan

Hobbes, Thomas, 1588-1679


8. The Prince

Machiavelli, Niccolò, 1469-1527


9. Oedipus



10. Hamlet

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616


11. The Odyssey



12. Orientalism

Said, Edward W.


13. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations

Turabian, Kate L.


14. The Iliad



15. Heart of Darkness

Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924


16. Canterbury Tales

Chaucer, Geoffrey, -1400


17. Antigone



18. Letter from the Birmingham Jail

King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968


19. On Liberty

Mill, John Stuart, 1806-1873


20. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Kuhn, Thomas S.


What this list can’t tell us is how many students actually bothered to read the assigned works. And given the state of education in this country, I’m guessing quite a few bought the CliffNotes version. 


Image: Skylar Lester/Pierce College News