THE WHITE LAND

The 50 most commonly assigned works of literature at top US colleges

This Sept. 9, 2016 photo shows the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. The building…
This Sept. 9, 2016 photo shows the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. The building…
Image: AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz
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US students are starting their summer vacation, which means a brief respite from stacks of required reading. For college kids, that’s three months without any Sophocles, Milton, or Woolf.

The Open Syllabus Project (OSP) is an online database with 1 million university curricula collected by scraping university sites and other syllabus collections going back to the early 2000s. The dataset is still a bit messy, says project director Joe Karaganis, but OSP is planning a major update that will roll out at the end of this summer, which will bring the total number of syllabi to 6 million, and will clean up some of the discrepancies around individual text titles.

For now, by looking at curricula labeled “English,” “Languages and Literature,” and “Classics” at the top 30 colleges in the US*, we can still glean a picture of what fiction the country’s elite students are asked to read. Not surprisingly, the list is mostly made up of books from the Western and Anglo canon, meaning it’s overwhelmingly white and male.

* This list includes syllabi from the top 30 US universities as ranked by US News and World Report in 2018, not including: Duke University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, Wake Forest University, College of William and Mary, University of Rochester, or California Institute of Technology, for which there are not data currently on OSP.

** OSP may incorrectly match titles to authors. This is most likely Ezra Pound: His Metric And Poetry, by T.S. Eliot, although we can’t be certain.

*** For similar reasons, this may be a different work titled Contemporary Literature.