The Center for History and New Media (whose slogan is "building a better yesterday … bit by bit") at George Mason University has tweaked google.com so as to produce a fascinating "Syllabus Finder." Put in an author's name and it churns out a listing of the syllabi where that author is assigned in U.S. classrooms, giving quantitative insight into whose writings are current.
Looking at Middle East studies, I ran twenty-four names of writers about history and politics who fit into three categories and got the following results:
Name Courses Books HAR Gibb 22 5,070 S D Goitein 12 4,900 Gustave von Grunebaum 1 102 Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall 10 72 Philip Hitti 5 131 Henri Lammens 3 102 Edward Lane 11 530 Louis Massignon 4 1,200
Middle East studies establishment
Name Courses Books Joel Beinin 24 1,670 Juan Cole 129 443 John Esposito 114 617 Cornell Fleischer 6 110 Nikki Keddie 30 753 Rashid Khalidi 52 4,980 Edward Said 868 17,800* Michael Sells 62 356
* In Edward Said's case, many of the courses and books are not related to Middle East studies.
Name Courses Books Fouad Ajami 102 898 Bat Ye'or 25 193 Ibn Warraq 34 85 Elie Kedourie 34 1,780 Stanley Kurtz 41 104 Martin Kramer 52 1,090 Bernard Lewis 356 3,880 Daniel Pipes 120 2,710
(1) The old masters do indeed go largely unread.
(2) The dissidents get a surprisingly good representation, even if in some cases they are supposed to be read negatively, perhaps because they are so few in number.
(3) Being part of the establishment is not guarantee of being read (it is a big establishment, after all), but it offers the route to scoring highest of all.
(4) What is assigned is partially a function of what publishers make available, but in the age of photostats and the internet, this is less the case than it used to be. That said, authors ubiquitous on the internet are likely to have a greater class readership than those less well represented. (February 22, 2005)
Oct. 12, 2005 update: Making use of Google Print, I have looked up the same names to see how many times they are cited in books whose contents are included in the Google Print feature. These are listed in the column on the right. In general, one finds a rough correlation between classroom use and number of book citations, with some glaring exceptions (Gibb, Goitein, and Khalidi in particular).
Apr. 28, 2011 update: "Syllabus Finder" made this blog possible; it is now defunct because of incompatibility issues; for more on it, see Jeff Rogers, "Syllabus Finder, Springtime for Software: The Death and Partial Re-Birth of Syllabus Finder."