In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Paris

  • Introduction
  • Archives, Journals, and Bibliographies
  • General Overviews
  • Urban Dynamics
  • Population and Living Conditions
  • Social Structure of Elites
  • Maintaining Public Order
  • Numerous, Rich Consumers
  • The Capital City of the First French Empire
  • Paris, Capital City of Knowledge
  • Comparing Paris. . .

Atlantic History Paris
Nicolas Lyon-Caen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0325


From the 13th century until the early 18th century, Paris—the capital city of France and the official residence of the kings—was the largest city in Europe. Many scholars have provided in-depth studies on the urban life and the ordinary life of the Parisians, at city-wide or district level. But the metropolis also played a prominent political, cultural, and economic role, both for the kingdom and for the rest of the world. Therefore, the history of the city as a civic community is inextricably interwoven with the history of the French state. Historians have usually stressed the limitations the state imposed on the city’s autonomy. But at the same time, Parisian elites are often considered as the main agent of centralization. Yet when it comes to describing what the consequences are of the special position of Paris, scholars differ on what the pertinent scale of analysis should be. They also disagree on issues pertaining to the link between the growing prominence of Paris and the national government: to what extent was it determined by the city’s own importance rather than by a process of centralization? By embracing the notion of capital city, many historians endeavor to articulate both the global and the local scales of the metropolis.

Archives, Journals, and Bibliographies

The most important collections of documents on early modern and modern Paris are kept in the French National Archives (Archives nationales) and the National Library of France (Gallica). However, other institutions, such as the Archives of Paris, the Carnavalet Museum, and the Historical Library of the City of Paris (BHVP), have recently achieved impressive work in digitalizing their collections. Only one scholarly journal is devoted to Paris, published by the Société d’histoire de Paris et de l’Île-de-France. Similarly, only a few bibliographies deal with the topic, other than those on the Renaissance (Diefendorf 2015) and the era of the French Revolution (Tourneux 1890–1913). However, all the journals on French history include several articles about Paris; see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History article “Early Modern France.” And the Bibliographie annuelle de l’histoire de France may well be useful in many aspects.

  • Archives nationales.

    The National Archives host several collections from Parisian urban institutions, such as the notarial acts dating back to the 15th century (minutier central des notaires parisiens) and the municipality’s records (registre des délibérations de l’Hôtel de ville). The online catalogue (SIV) can be used for exploring a large number of entries, including digitized records.

  • Archives de Paris.

    The Archives of Paris keep documents issued by the municipality of Paris and several administrations of the Department of Paris (La Seine) since the French Revolution. But they also hold the archives of the Commercial Court of Paris (Tribunal consulaire) and a reconstitution of the civil registers destroyed during the Commune in 1871, which are available online.

  • Bibliographie annuelle de l’histoire de France. 1955–.

    This serial bibliography, divided by subjects, indexes French and foreign dissertations, theses, and publications and analyzes numerous journals, symposia, and collective works. The fifty-seven volumes were published between 1955 and 2011 (Paris: Éditions du CNRS). From 2012 onward, the publications are available only online. An entry, “Paris,” can be found in the geographical index.

  • Carnavalet Museum.

    The historical museum of Paris host over 600,000 items (engravings, paintings, furniture, etc.). Its website provides information on many of them, as well as a very useful timeline.

  • Diefendorf, Barbara B. “Paris.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0039

    The article gives a full description of 16th-century Paris and pays a special attention to religious issues.

  • Gallica.

    The National Library of France has digitized a vast quantity of publications, as well as manuscripts, engravings, plans, and maps. The website provides a good selection of documents concerning Paris, from which about 20,000 images are classified according to historic landmarks and periods, topics, and places.

  • Historical Library of the City of Paris.

    The website of all the special libraries of the city of Paris (BHVP, Forney, etc.) offers an easy access to their catalogues and to their many digitalized documents.

  • Société d’histoire de Paris et de l’Île-de-France.

    The Société de l’histoire de Paris et de l’Île-de-France was founded in 1874. It publishes a Bulletin and Mémoires, with different names over time. They contain documents as well as articles on different aspects of the history of Paris, its society, politics, and urbanism. The website lists the available scanned copies together with several indexes.

  • Tourneux, Maurice. Bibliographie de l’histoire de Paris pendant la Révolution française. 5 vols. Paris: Imprimerie Nouvelle-Association Ouvrière, 1890–1913.

    This standard and very comprehensive reference work records a wide variety of documents on Paris during the era of the French Revolution.

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