Public debate

Patrick Boucheron

We must also demand with the same vigour a never-ending history – because it is always open to what surrounds it and carries it – and a history without final answers.

A medievalist by training and a writer by passion, Patrick Boucheron reconciles his love of stories with scientific rigour. He advocates for a history that is alert and active, both self-aware and present in the world.

Updated on 21/02/2019

2 min

Patrick Boucheron was first admitted to the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Saint-Cloud in 1985 and from the beginning of his studies specialised in medieval history. Having achieved his accreditation to teach in higher education, he wrote a thesis examining the transformations of the city of Milan in the Middle Ages as an expression of princely power. This first major research work laid the foundations for a historical reflection on intimately political issues.

Having become a professor at the Collège de France in 2015, he reaffirmed in his inaugural lesson the contemporary salience of history, which he calls upon to deliver engaging and liberating stories. In public, he doesn’t miss a chance to put this into practice by promoting his rigorous and exhilarating works through various media channels.

In 2008, with Leonardo and Machiavelli (“Léonard et Machiavel”), Patrick Boucheron's research on Italian medieval history engages with questions about the practice of writing history. Between an academic work and literature, the historian seeks to fill in the lack of sources regarding a hypothesised encounter between the painter of The Mona Lisa and the author of The Prince.

An experimental writer, Patrick Boucheron is also engaged in the process, as he demonstrates with his “politics of friendship”: In response to exhortations for a return to the “national narrative”, he offered a collective and introspective work, successfully completing his History of the World in the 15th Century (“Histoire du monde au XVe siècle”) a constellation of stories that reach beyond both university walls and conservative axioms.

Patrick Boucheron’s international perspective is at the very heart of his work. After an initial fascination with the French Revolution, he made the history of the Italian Middle Ages his primary domain. This transalpine perspective, which calls to the distancing demanded by historical science, lays the foundations for a reflection on the nation and its narrative.

The collective work A Global History of France (“Histoire mondiale de la France"), directed by Boucheron himself, reconciles the traditional, linear and event-centric historical narrative with the necessity of taking into account the interdependencies without which the nation can celebrate, but not explain itself.

  • 1994


    Patrick Boucheron completes his PhD thesis The Power of Building (“Le pouvoir de bâtir”), Urbanism and urban policy in Milan (XIVe-XVe siècles) (“Urbanisme et politique édilitaire à Milan (XIVe-XVe siècles)”) under the supervision of Pierre Toubert.

  • 2008


    Leonardo and Machiavelli creates a link between historiography and academic research, and establishes the first milestone in his historical experimentation.

  • 2009


    Thanks to The Trace and The Aura (“La Trace et l’Aura”), the historian is granted an accreditation to direct research.

  • 2015


    Patrick Boucheron is granted a professorship for “History of powers in Western Europe (13th-16th Centuries)” at the Collège de France, and recalls the political responsibility of the historian in his inaugural lesson.

  • 2017


    Patrick Boucheron publishes A Global History of France, whose media coverage inspires a series of interventions at the intersection of academic research and popular history.

The Institut français and the author.

A major figure on the contemporary French intellectual scene, Patrick Boucheron spoke at Night of Ideas, in the 28th January 2018 on the theme of "The Imagination in Power" and in the 31st January 2019 in Argentina.

L'institut français, LAB