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Ecole Nationale des Chartes (ECN) - National School of Palaeography and Archival Studies



Contact the ECN:


19 rue de la Sorbonne
F-75005 Paris, France




Porta ENC


An institution devoted to History and Heritage since 1821

The Ecole nationale des chartes (National School of Palaeography and Archival Studies) is a university level institution (grande école) that prepares students in the human and social sciences for careers in history related domains. It contributes to the professional training of executives (chief archivists and librarians, curators) who are responsible for preserving and making available to researchers, France’s cultural heritage, in the broadest sense. The École conducts research activities in historical and literary subjects, which it makes available in the form of online resources, printed publications and conferences.

The École nationale des chartes was established at a time when the first generation in France influenced by the Romantic movement was rediscovering mediaeval culture. The idea for the school having been conceived first by Napoleon, it was created by an ordinance of Louis XVIII on 22 February 1821. The aim of the new institution was to train young scholars capable of organising the documents that had been collected as a result of revolutionary confiscations and thus to rewrite national history. They were awarded a special degree, that of “archiviste paléographe” (archivist palaeographer). This diploma was created in 1829.

The curriculum was completely reorganized by the ordinance of 31 December 1846: it added new subjects, extended the period of study to three years and introduced a thesis to be defended at the end of the training period, giving students an opportunity to prove their ability to conduct advanced research.

Thus the scholarly foundations were laid which would make the École des chartes a leading institution in historical research, contributing to progress in its methodology that extended over half a century, and giving France archival methods that set new standards in Europe. During the twentieth century, the institution has adapted this legacy and devoted itself to the renewal of historical methods and to the evolution of the management of cultural heritage, by expanding its teaching methods in order to consider processes such as image analysis (history of art, media history), and other history related domains like archaeology and contemporary history. On site internships are an intricate part of these teaching methods.  

The current priorities of the École nationale des chartes include the development of digital technologies applied to historical research and heritage studies, and the broadening of its base to include master students and adults seeking courses in continuing education and, finally, the reinforcement of its international initiatives, especially in Europe.



The École nationale des chartes offers two fundamental training options to students:

- a three-year-plus track, or an “archiviste paléographe” option;

- a two-year track, or master’s degree in “history and new technologies” option.


The “archiviste paléographe” degree


This track’s goal is to provide, in the space of three years, specialized training in written, graphic and architectural heritage, to students who will become civil servants. The coursework in this track includes the completion of a thesis; after it has been defended, the student earns the title of “archiviste paléographe”.

Access to this course is selective and subject to the passing of a national competitive examination. The first-year examination is open to graduates with the baccalauréat or an equivalent degree, and consists of written and oral exams; the second-year examination is open to holders of a bachelor’s degree who have never taken part in the first-year tests, and includes both a review of the candidate’s academic achievements and an admission interview. Preparatory classes in the humanities that exist throughout France prepare candidates for the first year entrance examination.

This track offers students the possibility of receiving a stipend from the French Government as civil servants in training during their enrolment at the school, (approx. 1200 euros/month). It also enables them to prepare for other prominent positions in culture-related careers. Most students round off their École nationale des chartes training with a further eighteen months at one of two other institutions: the “Institut national du patrimoine”, which allows students access to careers in archival work, or at the “École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques”, which leads to careers in library science. Some students choose other training options offered by the  “Institut national du patrimoine”: museums, archaeology, historical buildings, inventory (national heritage census), or scientific, technical and natural heritage. Still others turn to academic careers as university professors or researchers at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique.

Foreign students may apply for the complete “archiviste paléographe” curriculum. However they are not eligible for the status of civil servants in training.

According to the terms of agreement between the École and several universities, many classes of the “archiviste paléographe” curriculum are open to external students and are acknowledged as part of their own curricula (mostly master’s degrees in history).

 Master’s degree in " History and new technologies "

Two tracks make up this research oriented master’s degree :

- a “History” option, the coursework of which is partly external, and conducted at the universities of Paris IV – Paris Sorbonne (four specialisations) and Paris I –Panthéon Sorbonne (one specialisation);

 - a “New Technologies applied to history” option, whose coursework is specific to the École nationale des chartes.

The track in “New technologies applied to history” is aimed at students already holding a bachelor’s degree. It includes two objectives: one offers future doctoral students methodological training with a strong emphasis on the use of digital technologies in their research activity; the other provides young historians with assets for employment in multimedia professions, for instance in website development for cultural heritage institutions.

General overview of historical sources is taught over both semesters of M1 (First Year Master’s degree). This overview includes selected classes within the option of the “archiviste paléographe” degree. The schema allows students to benefit from the educational experience of faculty members and assures pedagogical coherence.

Discovery of digital technologies takes place in M2. It is also open to students having completed their M1 in another institution. Two options are thus offered in M2:

- one is clearly research-oriented;

- the other is professionally oriented, and concentrates specifically the Web and software development in cultural-heritage contexts.

This master’s degree is offered in partnership with European universities which students can attend as part of their training.


International opening


The École nationale des chartes is part of the European space of higher education and research. It supports student and faculty mobility and develops  educational opportunities adapted to foreign students in cooperation with European higher education institutions.


Semester-based curricula and application of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) to all courses available at the École nationale des chartes were set up in September 2005. This allows European students registered with the Erasmus programme to have the training received at the École nationale des chartes acknowledged in their own curricula. Several bilateral agreements have been made with major European universities. The Erasmus application form is available on the website.

European faculty members can be granted guest stays to teach at the École nationale des chartes. The Erasmus programme makes it possible to invite them for short periods. The École also extends invitations to foreign teachers to conduct classes and participate in research programmes for one whole month.


Continuing education


The École nationale des chartes offers several options for continuing education:


The “History and heritage” cycle is aimed at people eager to broaden their historical knowledge, whether at an elementary or advanced level, on subjects such as palaeography, or cultural artefacts such as handwritten books, ancient printed books or historical photographs. The seminars take place in the evening or on Saturdays.

Several semi-annual courses included in the “archiviste paléographe” or master’s degrees may be attended as continuing education courses by non-registered students, with financial support from their employers.

The École nationale des chartes can also arrange custom-tailored training programmes that meet specific requirements for training organisations, administrations or companies.



The detailed list of one-semester classes of the École nationale des chartes is available on our website. The following examples illustrate a variety of possible combinations in accordance to students’ individual interests:

-         Sources of mediaeval history: Latin and French Palaeography, mediaeval archives and diplomatic, mediaeval Latin, Old French and Occitan, history of civil and canonical law, mediaeval archaeology, mediaeval art history...

-         Sources of modern and contemporary history: French palaeography, archives and diplomatic, institutional history, business archives and economic history, oral history, media history, history of technology, modern and contemporary art history...

-         Mediaeval manuscripts and literature: palaeography of book scripts, codicology, manuscript illumination and iconography, mediaeval literary texts, Latin and Romance philology...

-         Printed books and media: history of the book in the early modern and modern period, history of publishing in the 19th and 20th centuries, modern and contemporary manuscripts, photography, audio-visual documents...

-         History of art and archaeology: art history from the Middle Ages to the present, archaeology, manuscript illumination and mediaeval iconography, history of prints...

-         Digital technologies in archives, libraries and museums: cataloguing, data structuring, electronic publishing, digital documents and digitisation procedures, devising and designing electronic teaching aids...

-         Digital technologies and research: statistics, cartography and geographic information systems, digital processing of visual documents, electronic metrology...


Teaching resources on-line

On its website, the École nationale des chartes offers a variety of electronic resources for public use, free of charge. Teaching aids contain documentary dossiers which include facsimiles of historical documents, French translation and commentaries of various kinds; they can be used to illustrate general history classes or to introduce students to critical methods for investigating historical sources. Extensive disciplinary bibliographies and training tools are also available.




Scientific priorities are in line with the École’s fundamental calling: they aim to unite various subject fields and to help in the implementation of the scholarly techniques that make it possible to criticise, investigate and interpret historical source material, be it  words, images still or animated, sounds, objects, works of art or monuments. Particular attention is placed upon methodological issues and the production of reference tools and critical editions, from the Middle Ages to the present. Because it educates many aspiring chief archivists and librarians, one of the major concerns of the École nationale des chartes is to motivate students to reflect on the constitution, preservation and transmission of cultural heritage, thus considering books, records or monuments not as part of their professional knowledge, but as products and evidence of cultural and social history.


Electronic and printed publications

The École’s publications illustrate its variety of research interests. They include students’ theses and other monographs, conference proceedings and other collective volumes. They also offer tools for historians, namely books on the auxiliary sciences, bibliographies, collections of documents and other source material.

Through digital technology, the École’s website offers free tools for historical research as well as published documents. Significant work has been undertaken especially on the digital revival of late 19th-century editions of cartularies from abbeys of the Ile-de-France province, kept in the library. The work of faculty members and students is also made available on line in the form of databases, e.g. on early-modern library sales catalogues kept in Paris libraries, or theses defended for the degree of “archiviste paléographe”.


The library


The ordinance of 31 December 1846, which reorganised the École des chartes after it had moved to the premises of what was at the time France’s Archives, is the first document that mentions its library, comprised of historical works and collections of facsimiles. In 1897, the École moved to its current location in the Sorbonne and the library collection was placed on the very shelves where it thrives today.

Located at the heart of the École, the library was always closely associated with its teaching and research policy: the collections were centred on the subjects taught, regular acquisitions being increased by several donations. The arrangement of the library itself reflects the curriculum. Its main strength lies in bibliography, palaeography and codicology, sources of French history, Latin and Romance philology, legal history and archaeology; it focuses primarily on the mediaeval period and France. Moreover, without claiming to compete with other specialised libraries in their own fields, it provides the essential tools and reference books for the modern and contemporary periods. It is open not only to students and faculty members of the École but also to other accredited readers.

The library has become a centre of excellence in its field, unanimously acknowledged as such: its collection contains over 150,000 volumes, including 2,500 periodical titles and over 800 series. They have been made accessible to an ever growing community of students and researchers. They are entirely referenced in its catalogue, available on the École’s website, and in national union catalogues such as the SUDOC gateway, thanks to its participation in national and international networks.

Source: Presentation Brochure (Revision July 17 th, 2006)