The College De France Explained

The Sorbonne is probably the most famous of Paris’ academic institutions; although since the 1970s the Sorbonne no longer exists as the single University of Paris. There are though many other historic establishments within the capital of France, and arguably the most important of these is the Collège de France.

Located in Paris’ Latin Quarter, or the 5th arrondissement, Collège de France is situated across from the historic Sorbonne campus. The institution was brought into existence at the instigation of King François I in 1530. The idea being to have an educational counterpart to the Sorbonne, and would teach the subjects that as of that time Sorbonne refused to teach, initially this institution was known as the Collège Royal.  As such six Royal Readers, or lecturers, were appointed by King François, three to read Hebrew, two for Greek and a further one for mathematics.

Over the years the name changed and the number of Readers and subjects increased. The college became known as the Collège des Trois Langues, Collège National, Collège Imperial and finally in 1870 it became Collège de France, by which time there were forty Readers. 

Today the Collège de France acts as a state supported institute of higher education, with a focus on cutting edge research. The Collège de France is unlike most universities though and in essence researches the theories that are then taught and studied and more mainstream institutes. 

There are currently fifty-two Readers, or professors, with two additional places reserved for visiting professors. These Readers are amongst the leading researchers and academics in fields that include biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, archaeology and philosophy.

 These Readers are then required to provide free to attend lectures, lectures that are open to everyone, and is something that several thousand people take advantage of each year. 

There is no set curriculum at the Collège de France, and subject matter is an evolving state of affairs, dependent upon the very latest developments in a particular field. The fluid nature of the subject matter and the openness of the lectures is one of the reasons why there are no degrees or diplomas on offer from attendance at the college. Readers have included the likes of the anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, the philosopher, Ernest Renan and the historian, Jules Michelet. The Readers have their own research teams that have access to laboratories, research centres, as well as one of the most comprehensive of research libraries in Europe. The library does also include copies of the Collège de France’s Annuaire, the reports of all of the research undertaken by each Reader and their research teams.