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Who are the most influential thinkers in world?

Identify leaders in your chosen discipline, research top professors in your area of study, and search for schools based on the luminaries who most inspire you!

Note: These rankings change dynamically as our artificial intelligence system learns new things and incorporates new publications and citations. Academics are constantly doing research and publishing new insights, with the result that our measure of influence is subject to continual adjustments. For quality assurance reasons, however, we forgo real-time changes, with most public updates happening only quarterly. In any case, don’t be surprised to see our rankings change over time.

Methodology: How and Why We Rank by Influence …

Gender designations here are based off data sourced from Wikidata.

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List of the most influential people in History, for the years 1200 – 2020

Karl Marx
# 1
Karl Marx

1818 - 1883 (65 years)

#6 person's overall influence

Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Born in Trier, Germany, Marx studied law and philosophy at university. He married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. Due to his political publications, Marx became stateless and lived in exile with his wife and children in London for decades, where he continued to develop his thought in collaboration with German thinker Friedrich Engels and publish his writings, researching in the reading room of the British Museum. His best-known titles are the 1848 pamphlet

Voltaire
# 2
Voltaire

1694 - 1778 (84 years)

#28 person's overall influence

François-Marie Arouet , known by his nom de plume Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity—especially the Roman Catholic Church—as well as his advocacy of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

Edward Gibbon
# 3
Edward Gibbon

1737 - 1794 (57 years)

#549 person's overall influence

Edward Gibbon was an English historian, writer and Member of Parliament. His most important work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788 and is known for the quality and irony of its prose, its use of primary sources, and its polemical criticism of organised religion.

H. G. Wells
# 4
H. G. Wells

1866 - 1946 (80 years)

#19 person's overall influence

Herbert George Wells was an English writer. Prolific in many genres, he wrote dozens of novels, short stories, and works of social commentary, history, satire, biography and autobiography. His work also included two books on recreational war games. Wells is now best remembered for his science fiction novels and is often called the "father of science fiction", along with Jules Verne and the publisher Hugo Gernsback.

Friedrich Engels
# 5
Friedrich Engels

1820 - 1895 (75 years)

#105 person's overall influence

Friedrich Engels , sometimes anglicised as Frederick Engels , was a German philosopher, historian, political scientist and revolutionary socialist. He was also a businessman, journalist and political activist, whose father was an owner of large textile factories in Salford and Barmen, Prussia .

Ibn Khaldun
# 6
Ibn Khaldun

1332 - 1406 (74 years)

#121 person's overall influence

Ibn Khaldun was an Arab scholar of Islam, social scientist and historian who has been described as the father of the modern disciplines of historiography, sociology, economics, and demography. Niccolò Machiavelli of the Renaissance and the 19th-century European scholars widely acknowledged the significance of his works and considered Ibn Khaldun to be one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages.

Walter Scott
# 7
Walter Scott

1771 - 1832 (61 years)

#58 person's overall influence

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was a Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright, and historian. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include The Lady of the Lake and the novels Waverley, Old Mortality , Rob Roy, The Heart of Mid-Lothian, The Bride of Lammermoor, and Ivanhoe.

Richard J. Evans
# 8
Richard J. Evans

1947 - Present (74 years)

#1797 person's overall influence

Richard J. Evans is the Provost of Gresham College and a highly regarded historian. He earned an M.A. from Jesus College at Oxford and a D.Phil. from St. Antony’s College at Oxford.

David Hume
# 9
David Hume

1711 - 1776 (65 years)

#32 person's overall influence

David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, librarian and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism. Beginning with A Treatise of Human Nature , Hume strove to create a naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge derives solely from experience. This places him with Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and George Berkeley, as a British Empiricist.

Michel Foucault
# 10
Michel Foucault

1926 - 1984 (58 years)

#26 person's overall influence

Paul-Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, and literary critic.

Fernand Braudel
# 11
Fernand Braudel

1902 - 1985 (83 years)

#1228 person's overall influence

Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France . His reputation stems in part from his writings, but even more from his success in making the Annales School the most important engine of historical research in France and much of the world after 1950. As the dominant leader of the Annales School of historiography in the 1950s and 1960s, he exerted enormous influence on historical writing in France and other countries. He was a stude...

Leopold von Ranke
# 12
Leopold von Ranke

1795 - 1886 (91 years)

#1325 person's overall influence

Leopold von Ranke was a German historian and a founder of modern source-based history. According to Caroline Hoefferle, "Ranke was probably the most important historian to shape [the] historical profession as it emerged in Europe and the United States in the late 19th century". He was able to implement the seminar teaching method in his classroom and focused on archival research and the analysis of historical documents. Building on the methods of the Göttingen School of History, Ranke set the standards for much of later historical writing, introducing such ideas as reliance on primary sourc...

Eric Hobsbawm
# 13
Eric Hobsbawm

1917 - 2012 (95 years)

#1395 person's overall influence

Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm was a British historian of the rise of industrial capitalism, socialism and nationalism. A life-long Marxist, his socio-political convictions influenced the character of his work. His best-known works include his trilogy about what he called the "long 19th century" , The Age of Extremes on the short 20th century, and an edited volume that introduced the influential idea of "invented traditions".

Arnold J. Toynbee
# 14
Arnold J. Toynbee

1889 - 1975 (86 years)

#1509 person's overall influence

Arnold Joseph Toynbee was a British historian, a philosopher of history, an author of numerous books and a research professor of international history at the London School of Economics and King's College in the University of London. Toynbee in the 1918–1950 period was a leading specialist on international affairs.

Thomas Carlyle
# 15
Thomas Carlyle

1795 - 1881 (86 years)

#333 person's overall influence

Thomas Carlyle was a British historian, satirical writer, essayist, translator, philosopher, mathematician, and teacher. In his book On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History , he argued that the actions of the "Great Man" play a key role in history, claiming that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men". Other major works include The French Revolution: A History, 3 vols and The History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great, 6 vols .

E. P. Thompson
# 16
E. P. Thompson

1924 - 1993 (69 years)

#2117 person's overall influence

Edward Palmer Thompson was a British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner. He is probably best known today for his historical work on the British radical movements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular The Making of the English Working Class .

W.E.B. Du Bois
# 17
W.E.B. Du Bois

1868 - 1963 (95 years)

#188 person's overall influence

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was an American sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community, and after completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.

# 18
Ernst Nolte

1923 - 2016 (93 years)

#3518 person's overall influence

Ernst Nolte was a German historian and philosopher. Nolte's major interest was the comparative studies of fascism and communism . Originally trained in philosophy, he was professor emeritus of modern history at the Free University of Berlin, where he taught from 1973 until his 1991 retirement. He was previously a professor at the University of Marburg from 1965 to 1973. He was best known for his seminal work Fascism in Its Epoch, which received widespread acclaim when it was published in 1963. Nolte was a prominent conservative academic from the early 1960s and was involved in many controvers

# 19
Andreas Hillgruber

1925 - 1989 (64 years)

#4186 person's overall influence

Andreas Fritz Hillgruber was a conservative German historian who was influential as a military and diplomatic historian who played a leading role in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s.

Lucien Febvre
# 20
Lucien Febvre

1878 - 1956 (78 years)

#2073 person's overall influence

Lucien Paul Victor Febvre was a French historian best known for the role he played in establishing the Annales School of history. He was the initial editor of the Encyclopédie française together with Anatole de Monzie.

Hans-Ulrich Wehler
# 21
Hans-Ulrich Wehler

1931 - 2014 (83 years)

#5198 person's overall influence

Hans-Ulrich Wehler was a German left-liberal historian known for his role in promoting social history through the "Bielefeld School", and for his critical studies of 19th-century Germany.

Marc Bloch
# 22
Marc Bloch

1886 - 1944 (58 years)

#3515 person's overall influence

Marc Léopold Benjamin Bloch was a French historian. A founding member of the Annales School of French social history, he specialised in medieval history and published widely on Medieval France over the course of his career. As an academic, he worked at the University of Strasbourg , the University of Paris , and the University of Montpellier .

Niccolò Machiavelli
# 23
Niccolò Machiavelli

1469 - 1527 (58 years)

#267 person's overall influence

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian Renaissance diplomat, philosopher and writer, best known for The Prince , written in 1513. He has often been called the father of modern political philosophy and political science.

Oswald Spengler
# 24
Oswald Spengler

1880 - 1936 (56 years)

#922 person's overall influence

Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler was a German historian and philosopher of history whose interests included mathematics, science, and art and their relation to his cyclical theory of history. He is best known for his book The Decline of the West , published in 1918 and 1922, covering all of world history. Spengler's model of history postulates that any culture is a superorganism with a limited and predictable lifespan.

Washington Irving
# 25
Washington Irving

1783 - 1859 (76 years)

#304 person's overall influence

Washington Irving was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" , both of which appear in his collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works include biographies of Oliver Goldsmith, Muhammad and George Washington, as well as several histories of 15th-century Spain that deal with subjects such as Alhambra, Christopher Columbus and the Moors. Irving served as American ambassador to Spain in the 1840s.

A. J. P. Taylor
# 26
A. J. P. Taylor

1906 - 1990 (84 years)

#3132 person's overall influence

Alan John Percivale Taylor was a British historian who specialised in 19th- and 20th-century European diplomacy. Both a journalist and a broadcaster, he became well known to millions through his television lectures. His combination of academic rigour and popular appeal led the historian Richard Overy to describe him as "the Macaulay of our age".

Joachim Fest
# 27
Joachim Fest

1926 - 2006 (80 years)

#4267 person's overall influence

Joachim Clemens Fest was a German journalist, critic, and editor best known for his writings and public commentary on Nazi Germany, including a biography of Adolf Hitler and books about Albert Speer and German resistance to Nazism. He was a leading figure in the debate among German historians about the Nazi period.

# 28
Klaus Hildebrand

1941 - Present (80 years)

#5776 person's overall influence

Klaus Hildebrand is a German liberal-conservative historian whose area of expertise is 19th–20th-century German political and military history.

Thomas More
# 29
Thomas More

1478 - 1535 (57 years)

#360 person's overall influence

Sir Thomas More , venerated in the Catholic Church as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He also served Henry VIII as Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to May 1532. He wrote Utopia, published in 1516, about the political system of an imaginary island state.

# 30
Geoffrey Blainey

1930 - Present (91 years)

#1766 person's overall influence

Geoffrey Norman Blainey is an Australian historian, academic, best selling author and commentator with a wide international audience. He is noted for having written authoritative texts on the economic and social history of Australia, including The Tyranny of Distance. He has published over 40 books, including wide-ranging histories of the world and of Christianity. He has often appeared in newspapers and on television. He held chairs in economic history and history at the University of Melbourne for over 20 years. In the 1980s, he was visiting professor of Australian Studies at Harvard Univ

Nikolaus Pevsner
# 31
Nikolaus Pevsner

1902 - 1983 (81 years)

#1688 person's overall influence

Sir Nikolaus Bernhard Leon Pevsner was a German-British art historian and architectural historian best known for his monumental 46-volume series of county-by-county guides, The Buildings of England .

# 32
Herbert Butterfield

1900 - 1979 (79 years)

#5567 person's overall influence

Sir Herbert Butterfield was Regius Professor of History and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. As a British historian and philosopher of history, he is remembered chiefly for a short volume early in his career entitled The Whig Interpretation of History and for his Origins of Modern Science . Butterfield turned increasingly to historiography and man's developing view of the past. Butterfield was a devout Christian and reflected at length on Christian influences in historical perspectives.

Ian Kershaw
# 33
Ian Kershaw

1943 - Present (78 years)

#3476 person's overall influence

Sir Ian Kershaw is an English historian and author whose work has chiefly focused on the social history of 20th-century Germany. He is regarded by many as one of the world's leading experts on Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and is particularly noted for his biographies of Hitler.

# 34
Martin Broszat

1926 - 1989 (63 years)

#5976 person's overall influence

Martin Broszat was a German historian specializing in modern German social history. As director of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich from 1972 until his death, he became known as one of the world's most eminent scholars of Nazi Germany.

Hans Mommsen
# 35
Hans Mommsen

1930 - 2015 (85 years)

#4425 person's overall influence

Hans Mommsen was a German historian, known for his studies in German social history, and for his functionalist interpretation of the Third Reich, especially for arguing that Adolf Hitler was a weak dictator. He was a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.

# 36
Michael Stürmer

1938 - Present (83 years)

#7186 person's overall influence

Michael Stürmer is a right-wing German historian arguably best known for his role in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s, for his geographical interpretation of German history and for an admiring 2008 biography of the Russian politician Vladimir Putin.

Mircea Eliade
# 37
Mircea Eliade

1907 - 1986 (79 years)

#199 person's overall influence

Mircea Eliade was a Romanian-American historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day. His theory that hierophanies form the basis of religion, splitting the human experience of reality into sacred and profane space and time, has proved influential. One of his most instrumental contributions to religious studies was his theory of eternal return, which holds that myths and rituals do not simply commemorate hierophanies, bu...

Jürgen Kocka
# 38
Jürgen Kocka

1941 - Present (80 years)

#11960 person's overall influence

Jürgen Kocka is a German historian.

Montesquieu
# 39
Montesquieu

1689 - 1755 (66 years)

#318 person's overall influence

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu , generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French judge, man of letters, and political philosopher.

Bernardino de Sahagún
# 40
Bernardino de Sahagún

1499 - 1590 (91 years)

#2120 person's overall influence

Bernardino de Sahagún was a Franciscan friar, missionary priest and pioneering ethnographer who participated in the Catholic evangelization of colonial New Spain . Born in Sahagún, Spain, in 1499, he journeyed to New Spain in 1529. He learned Nahuatl and spent more than 50 years in the study of Aztec beliefs, culture and history. Though he was primarily devoted to his missionary task, his extraordinary work documenting indigenous worldview and culture has earned him the title as “the first anthropologist." He also contributed to the description of the Aztec language Nahuatl. He translated th...

Kurt Aland
# 41
Kurt Aland

1915 - 1994 (79 years)

#10036 person's overall influence

Kurt Aland was a German theologian and biblical scholar who specialized in New Testament textual criticism. He founded the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster and served as its first director from 1959–83. He was one of the principal editors of Nestle-Aland – Novum Testamentum Graece for the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft and The Greek New Testament for the United Bible Societies.

Lyon Sprague de Camp
# 42
Lyon Sprague de Camp

1907 - 2000 (93 years)

#969 person's overall influence

Lyon Sprague de Camp , better known as L. Sprague de Camp, was an American writer of science fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. In a career spanning 60 years, he wrote over 100 books, including novels and works of non-fiction, including biographies of other fantasy authors. He was a major figure in science fiction in the 1930s and 1940s.

Thomas Hobbes
# 43
Thomas Hobbes

1588 - 1679 (91 years)

#73 person's overall influence

Thomas Hobbes , was an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, in which he expounds an influential formulation of social contract theory. In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes contributed to a diverse array of other fields, including history, jurisprudence, geometry, the physics of gases, theology, and ethics, as well as philosophy in general.

Frederick Jackson Turner
# 44
Frederick Jackson Turner

1861 - 1932 (71 years)

#4335 person's overall influence

Frederick Jackson Turner was an American historian during the early 20th century, based at the University of Wisconsin until 1910, and then at Harvard. He was known primarily for his "Frontier Thesis". He trained many PhDs who became well-known historians. He promoted interdisciplinary and quantitative methods, often with an emphasis on the Midwest. His best known publication is his essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History", the ideas of which formed the Frontier Thesis. He argued that the moving western frontier exerted a strong influence on American democracy and the Am

Allan Nevins
# 45
Allan Nevins

1890 - 1971 (81 years)

#3298 person's overall influence

Joseph Allan Nevins was an American historian and journalist, known for his extensive work on the history of the Civil War and his biographies of such figures as Grover Cleveland, Hamilton Fish, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller, as well as his public service. He was a leading exponent of business history and oral history.

Friedrich Schiller
# 46
Friedrich Schiller

1759 - 1805 (46 years)

#392 person's overall influence

Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller was a German poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright. During the last seventeen years of his life , Schiller developed a productive, if complicated, friendship with the already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They frequently discussed issues concerning aesthetics, and Schiller encouraged Goethe to finish works he left as sketches. This relationship and these discussions led to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism. They also worked together on Xenien, a collection of short satirical poems in which both Schiller an...

Eberhard Jäckel
# 47
Eberhard Jäckel

1929 - 2017 (88 years)

#7871 person's overall influence

Eberhard Jäckel was a Social Democratic German historian, noted for his studies of Adolf Hitler's role in German history. Jäckel sees Hitler as being the historical equivalent to the Chernobyl disaster.

Alexander Pushkin
# 48
Alexander Pushkin

1799 - 1837 (38 years)

#300 person's overall influence

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

Joseph Needham
# 49
Joseph Needham

1900 - 1995 (95 years)

#486 person's overall influence

Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham was a British biochemist, historian and sinologist known for his scientific research and writing on the history of Chinese science and technology. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941, and a fellow of the British Academy in 1971. In 1992, Queen Elizabeth II conferred on him the Companionship of Honour, and the Royal Society noted he was the only living person to hold these three titles.

Bernard Lewis
# 50
Bernard Lewis

1916 - 2018 (102 years)

#912 person's overall influence

Bernard Lewis, was a British American historian specialized in Oriental studies. He was also known as a public intellectual and political commentator. Lewis was the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Lewis' expertise was in the history of Islam and the interaction between Islam and the West.