The Communist Manifesto is ranked among the top three most popular assigned readings in American college and university classes, according to the Open Syllabus Project (OSP). Karl Marx himself is the most assigned economist in higher education courses.
The famous German political and economic theorist ranked only behind Plato’s Republic, with E.B. White and William Skrunk Jr.’s The Elements of Style taking the No. 1 spot. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is listed in 3,189 different syllabi. Surprisingly, the second-highest ranked economic text, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, was only assigned half as many times at 1,587, according to OSP data provided by MarketWatch. This data includes all higher education levels, including community colleges and Ivy League universities.
One of the reasons Marx and Engel’s book may be so popular nearly 170 years after its publication is that it can be used to study a wide variety of subjects, including history, economics, social theory, and politics. It is also arguably the most influential work of the twentieth century, inspiring several uprisings, a number of communist revolutions, and the formation of both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China among other governments.
The list of frequently assigned texts works by counting the number of times each text appears in a course syllabus, and a teaching score, which is a numerical value representing the frequency with which the course itself is taught. Karl Marx’s work has a count of 3,189 and a teaching score of 99.7, while Plato’s Republic comes in with a count of 3,573 and a teaching score of 99.9, and The Elements of Style ranks at the very top with a count of 3,934 and a teaching score of 100.0.
The conservative news site Breitbart documented the ironic popularity of The Communist Manifesto for assigned reading in the United States when compared to figures from other countries.
“When the OSP explorer is filtered by country, Marx’s work has an overall ranking of fourth in the United States, with a count of 2,244, 37th in the United Kingdom, with a count of 197, and sixth in Canada, with a count of 76. In Australia and New Zealand, the book receives a count of only 2 and is in the bottom ranks.”
The Open Syllabus Project went live January 22, setting up as an effort to create a database that tracks books and other readings assigned to students in university courses, including 930,000 texts from over 1 million syllabi. The idea os OSP is to create a new resource for research and teaching. The project explains its system of monitoring works and ranking texts assigned to students.
“At present, we have around 1.1 million syllabi, drawing predominantly from the past decade of teaching in the US. We think the total number of US, UK, Canadian, and Australian syllabi for the past 15 years is in the range of 80-100 million.”
It should be noted that at this time that the computer algorithms that run OSP database are not designed to detect when books with single-word titles and no specific author, such as the Bible and the U.S. Constitution, are included in syllabi, and thus they do not appear in the data set. The syllabi have a focus on the U.S. and only cover approximately the last fifteen years. In addition, the OSP itself estimates up to 100 million more syllabi could be reviewed, and the OSP itself should be considered a work in progress.
Still, it is interesting to observe that Adam Smith’s magnum opus, often considered the foundational treatise of capitalism, trails so far behind the Manifesto. Smith’s book is number 37 and The Federalist Papers are number 294 on the publicly available beta version of the Syllabus Explorer.
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