Records of the Imperial University of France

Scope and Content

Documents relating to the Imperial University of France and other French universities and institutes of learning. Manuscript documents.

Administrative / Biographical History

Founded around 1170, the medieval University of Paris grew out of the cathedral schools of Notre-Dame. To accommodate the students many colleges were built, and one of the most celebrated of these was the Sorbonne founded by the theologian Robert de Sorbon (1201-1274) in around 1257. In time, the name Sorbonne became a popular term for the theological faculty of Paris. During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods however, colleges disappeared from Paris and from universities in the rest of continental Europe. With the French Revolution (1789-99) came the subsequent reorganisation of many of France's institutions, not least the University of Paris.

The Imperial University was created under the Empire in 1806 and became operational in 1808. It was one of the cornerstones of Napoleon's institutional reconstruction. The Imperial University was devoted exclusively to the training of the managerial staff the country very much needed, particularly in the fields of law and medicine. Faculties of literature and of science were also created and these were seen as embodying the spirit of positivism and faith in progress. Rather than house the Imperial institution in the outdated Sorbonne, Napoleon had selected sites with new prestige - the Champs-de-Mars and the Iles des Cygnes. However, he did not have time to finish this project.

During the period of the Second Restoration (1815-1830) the faculties of theology, literature and science were brought back to the Sorbonne in 1821 by the Ultras, the 'ultraroyaliste' and extreme right wing of the French royalist movement representing the interests of the large landowners, the aristocracy, clericalists, and former emigres.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) The new encyclopaedia Britannica. Micropaedia. Ready Reference. 15th edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1991. (2) Historique. La Sorbonne. Full-text [online].  La Sorbonne [Accessed 5 December 2001].

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Geographical Names