A theme that’s been coming up in my conversations recently (including when visiting UC Davis) is the question of the “humanities canon”: i.e., who are the theorists whose views have been most influential in shaping the humanities disciplines, especially over the last century or so? And more specifically, is there anything approximating an “environmental humanities canon,” and who are its key theorists?
I’ll leave the second question for later. As for the first, an easy place to start is with a simple Google Scholar search for some of the most commonly cited humanists of the last century.
Is there any question about who will top that list? For me there wasn’t. (Drumroll coming.) But after first place, there were some surprises.
A few caveats:
The list does not distinguish between theoretical works and other kinds of writings (literary, popular, et al.) except insofar as Google Scholar already does that. So Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose counts alongside his semiotic writings. Nor does it distinguish between the names listed in book titles as opposed to books for which the named individual is the author. (For instance, “Adolf Hitler” results in “about 89,000 results,” but it’s likely that most of these are books about Hitler rather than books he authored.)
The numbers following the names refer to the number of “results” listed for the entire name — first and last name contained in quote marks, e.g., “Edward Said,” even if this refers to a book entitled The Things Edward Said.
Numbers in square brackets indicate the exact cite number for scholars with Google Scholar “user profiles.”
Note that some results are a little perplexing: for instance, Thomas Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” has 70,362 citations, but the name “Thomas Kuhn” only delivers “about 52,900 results.” I’m guessing this is because some of the “Structure” citations list his name as “T. S. Kuhn” or something else.
Finally, there are names I might not have searched for. If you think of any, search their name on Google Scholar and, if they beat Judith Butler, let me know who they are (in the comments section). The loose rule is that they both published books in the 20th century (and/or 21st) and lived well into that century.
There are, of course, some whose lives ended before that century began, but whose publications swelled well into our time period. If Karl Marx were allowed on the list, he’d win — with 582,000 results. Kant (180,000) and Shakespeare (125,000) would also be up there in the top 10.
I’ve also indicated any individual books (by these theorists) with more than 30,000 citations.
The winner? Of course it’s Michel Foucault. (I’ll leave aside the fact that some consider him an “anti-humanist,” or a “post-humanist.” Or that he’d be more interested in how the category of “the humanities” emerged than in who wins a popularity contest within it.)
- Michel Foucault 394,000 [447,638] (Discipline and Punish, 41,036; History of Sexuality Vol. 2, 30,641)
- Sigmund Freud 291,000
- Pierre Bourdieu 188,000 [338,987] (Distinction 30,625)
- John Dewey 163,000
- Jacques Derrida 129,000 [144,342]
- Hannah Arendt 125,000
- Roland Barthes 99,900
- Marin Heidegger 87,700
- John Rawls 82,700 (A Theory of Justice 48,566)
- Jean Piaget 82,100
- Jean-Paul Sartre 74,800
- Jacques Lacan 74,600
- Gilles Deleuze 66,200
- Ludwig Wittgenstein 64,900
- Amartya Sen 63,900
- Karl Popper 63,400
- Edward Said 62,500
- Noam Chomsky 59,400
- Anthony Giddens 57,100
- Jurgen Habermas 54,700
- Umberto Eco 53,300
- Thomas Kuhn 52,900 (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 70,362)
- Clifford Geertz 51,200 [108,214] (Interpretation of Cultures 32,782)
- Judith Butler 51,200
And here’s another list to cross-check this one against: