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I'm an STS student, so bear with me; I'm happy to provide clarification but I want to leave the specific application unspecified:

What sources would you consult if you were trying to generate a huge "list of all academic topics"?

I'm thinking it would include all the 'ologies', the 'isms', the 'X studies', all the historical "movements", all the 'subjects' of journals and papers, all the 'big questions' of any given "field".

What other sources, whether vague (like above) or specific (like a URL with some good list items), would you suggest in compiling this list?

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6  
The Dewey Decimal System? The Library of Congress Classification‌​? –  JeffE Jun 7 '12 at 5:30
    
And what for do you need it? (Depending on the aim the answer may vary.) –  Piotr Migdal Jun 8 '12 at 17:50
    
If you actually want to get down to the level of topics for individual journals and papers, then it's utterly infeasible. Even for one field (say, mathematics), it's an enormous amount of work, and there's just no way you can do it in a way that will satisfy people. For example, math has the Mathematics Subject Classification (ams.org/msc), but nobody really takes it seriously since we all know it's incredibly incomplete, sometimes misleading or controversial, etc. However, the MSC is still enormous (47 pages, two columns, small type). –  Anonymous Mathematician Jun 8 '12 at 18:44
    
If you're happy to stay at a high level (departments or major fields), then you'll be fine, but if you really need a detailed list of all academic topics at a very detailed level, then I'd recommend rethinking the overall project. –  Anonymous Mathematician Jun 8 '12 at 18:46

2 Answers 2

You need to define topic first. At the macro level, all topics fall under "knowledge", or some such nonsense, and at the micro level, every published paper and book is on a different topic.

You could use the different doctoral degrees as pretty broad topics. This would give you a list like philosophy (PhD), medicine (MD), science (ScD), etc. A less coarse division would be "schools/College". This would give you a list like School/College of Arts, School/College of Humanities, School/College of Medicine, School/College of Science, etc. A finer division would be departments and institutes within a School/College. A still finer would be research groups within departments. This of course leads to individuals within groups and finally publications by individuals.

University websites would provide all the information you need, although not in a format that is easy to search and retrieve.

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A good starting place may be: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_academic_disciplines, with the links there, esp. restricting to specific disciplines (e.g. List of biology disciplines); for each field of science, usually there are a few different official classifications of sub-disciplines (e.g. Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS)).

However, bear in mind that:

  • there is no universal classification,
  • some are constructed for different purposes, with differently 'catching' subfields and their intersections,
  • there are many synonyms, e.g. 'biological chemistry = biochemistry',
  • for may there may be historical bias (i.e. divisions which were useful 10 year ago, but not are out-of-date),
  • some classifications use descriptive names (one sentence or more), some - 1-3 word tags,
  • many classifications are hierarchical.
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