In the New York Times, Joe Karaganis (Columbia University) and David McClure (Stanford University Library), announced the Open Syllabus Project, an open platform that aggregates more than 1 million syllabi and allows users to explore them via its Syllabus Explorer tool.
At present, the Syllabus Explorer is mostly a tool for counting how often texts are assigned over the past decade. There is something for everyone here. 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.”
Top articles? Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” and Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History.” And so on. Altogether, the Syllabus Explorer tracks about 933,000 works. Nearly half of these are assigned only once.
Many academics are uncomfortable with this sort of numerical reduction of intellectual work. Taken in isolation, we share this concern. But there is a broader context here: At present, publication metrics basically involve counting the citations of a given academic work in other academic publications. And since it can take years for an influential work to accumulate citations, shortcuts have become popular, such as the “journal impact factor,” which scores journal articles based on journal rankings that are determined by the journals’ own frequency of citation in other journals.
Note from dh+lib Review editors: A previous version of this post referred to a blog post by David Weinberger. The post was updated to point to the OSP team’s announcement of the project in the New York Times and to clarify and recognize the project’s origin. Our apologies to the core OSP team, Joe Karaganis, David McClure, Dennis Tenen, Jonathan Stray, Alex Gil, and Ted Byfield for failing to acknowledge them in the original post.