Harvard University is almost universally acclaimed as the world’s most prestigious university. There is little doubt that its towering reputation is well earned.
For starters, some 150 Nobel laureates have either studied or taught at the school—more than at any other university in the world.
Moreover, over 40 international heads of state or government have passed through its gates. Of these, eight were US Presidents (the most of any college or university):
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Our answer to this is to show you the disciplines in which a school's faculty and alumni have had the highest historical influence. A school may be influential in a discipline even if they do not offer degrees in that area. We've organized two lists to show where they are influential and offer corresponding degrees, and where they are influential through scholarship although they don't offer degrees in the disciplines.
Who are Harvard University's Most influential alumni?
Harvard University's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Biology, Literature, and Law. Harvard University’s most academically influential people include William James, Stephen Jay Gould, and Noam Chomsky.
American philosopher, psychologist, and pragmatistview profile
American evolutionary biologistview profile
American linguist, philosopher and activistview profile
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American business magnate and philanthropistview profile
U.S. biologist and authorview profile
Algerian-born French philosopherview profile
American novelist, short story author, and literary criticview profile
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Psychologist, linguist, authorview profile
Harvard Law School is also often considered the best in the country. It has contributed no fewer than 16 Justices to the US Supreme Court over the years (the most of any law school in the country). The sitting Justices who are Harvard Law graduates are Stephen G. Breyer, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, and Elena Kagan.
Another reason for Harvard’s reputation is its strength across a wide variety of academic disciplines, not only in the arts and sciences—from Classics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations to biology, astronomy, and physics—but also in law, business, and medicine.
Philosophy has long been a particular strength, as witnessed by the following names:
Other distinguished, nineteenth- and twentieth-century individuals with connections to Harvard include:
Nor does it hurt that, with some seven million volumes, Harvard’s Widener Library is one of the largest academic libraries in the world.
But all of this raises the question: Why Harvard? Why did this particular school attain such a stratospheric academic stature?
For one thing, it is the oldest institution of higher learning in what is now the United States, having been founded, under the name of New College, a mere 16 years after the arrival of the Mayflower. On the other hand, though, by the standards of Europe where scores of universities date back to the Middle Ages, Harvard is a relative newcomer on the educational scene. Longevity alone, then, cannot explain the school’s international pre-eminence. So, what does?
If we focus on the period since World War II, we can clearly see that Harvard has risen to world prominence in conjunction with the nation of which it is a part—the United States—which at war’s end in 1945 found itself the military, technological, and economic leader of the world. Even before the war, during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, eminent Jewish academics and others who saw the handwriting on the wall had streamed into the US by the tens of thousands. After the war, with Germany in ruins, the migration of highly distinguished scientists and scholars to this country continued throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s.
Harvard was certainly a prime beneficiary of these historical trends, but many other institutions benefited, as well. Which raises the question: What accounts for Harvard’s outstanding excellence in relation to other American colleges and universities, which can be traced to well before World War II?
Here, we may point to a combination of factors, including the intellectual and cultural dominance of Boston, and New England as a whole, during the first couple of centuries of our nation’s history. Another factor is undoubtedly Harvard’s enormous endowment—in excess of $40 billion—making the school by far the wealthiest university in the US. Such riches bring with them the ability both to pay top-of-the-line salaries to its faculty and to provide them with cutting-edge facilities.
Who can say with certainty which of these many factors was decisive? Still, we can safely say that the more famous Harvard became, the greater the number of distinguished scholars and promising students who wished to be associated with it—which in the fulness of time increased its reputation still further.
And so on, until the present day . . . and, in all likelihood, long into the future.