The Collection of documents and objects
The heritage collections at École des Ponts ParisTech represent all the documents kept by the school and produced before the 1970s. The Ponts et chaussées Heritage website shows only a part of these collections, documents that have been digitized. The stores and reserves contain many other treasures, which can be discovered in the online catalogs
The particularity of the heritage collections of École des ponts et chaussées
The École des ponts et chaussées collections reflect the diversity of the School’s teaching methods since its creation: as well as books, manuscripts and periodicals, major collections of drawings and photographs, but also models, paintings and scientific instruments were used to train engineers, and indeed to serve the entire Corps des ponts et chaussées.
The collections are presented below, classed by type.
More than 50,000 print titles published from 1490 to 1969 are referenced in the catalogs. Most of them deal with the main themes of École des ponts et chaussées, theoretical and practical works used for teaching or as documentation for working engineers.
They include treatises signed by the most renowned scientists in their disciplines, from Antiquity to the 20th century:
For mathematics and physics, one can read Euclid, Copernicus, Newton, Lagrange, Sadi Carnot, or Einstein; for architecture, Vitruvius, Jacques-François Blondel, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux or Léonce Reynaud. Also preserved are the main treatises on hydraulics (in particular Italian works from the 18th and 19th centuries).
Many monographs, works of the Ponts et chaussées engineers, are obviously devoted to the construction of bridges and their description: the works of Jean-Rodolphe Perronet in the first place, but also treatises by Émiland Gauthey, Romain Morandière and Paul Séjourné, and studies by Ferdinand de Dartein.
There are also authors and works emblematic of the scholarly libraries of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment: Voyage autour du monde by La Pérouse, De Architectura by Vitruvius (1524 edition), works by Montesquieu, Descartes, Euclid, Fénelon, Rousseau, etc. (see the library catalog).
Alongside these prestigious works, a significant part of the collection is made up of what might be called “grey literature”: technical works often related to development projects and published, in particular in the 19th century, by the publisher and bookseller Carilian-Gœury, the official bookseller of the Corps des ponts et chaussées, as well as a major collection of reports and accounts of congresses and World Fairs.
Another particularity of the collection of prints is that many of them were produced on the School's premises, using a lithographic press. At the beginning of the 19th century, this process was intended for the reproduction of documents used in architectural courses, but was soon used to produce all of the School's educational materials, and even technical documentation for or from the Corps des ponts et chaussées engineers. It was widely used until the end of the 19th century, especially for course books. The corpus of course books and manuals, which includes more than 2,500 titles, is one of the major collections in the archives, and obviously includes almost all of the documents produced for the School's courses, but also courses from École Polytechnique and other French and foreign engineering schools.
In addition, the collection reflects the School's international outlook, with more than thirty languages represented in the works (in particular English and German - 2,500 titles in each of these languages, Italian - 1,000 titles, Latin - 500 titles).
From the Briare Canal concession deed signed by Louis XIII in 1638, to the Bordeaux port development works in 1924, this is an extremely rich collection, especially in hydraulics, on applications to domestic navigation in the country (canal construction) as well as abroad (Holland in the 18th century, Italy in the early 19th century and the United States in the mid-19th century). It also contains numerous documents on the construction of stone bridges, metal bridges, railroads and the possibility of increasing the density of communication routes.
These documents were deposited by Ponts et chaussées engineers, but many gifts and bequests (in particular those of the first directors of the School, Perronet, Lesage, and Prony) have enriched this collection, which also includes manuscripts from the archives relating to the Corps des ponts et chaussées, schooling and the life of the School.
Indeed, the richness of this collection lies in the work of students and engineers, in particular the competitions and mission diaries from the 19th century, as well as documents from professors, such as those of Charles-François Mandar or Quinette de Rochemont, or from engineers, such as the documentation collected by Louis Bruyère (33 bound volumes), the numerous writings of Prony (including his memoirs of his mission in Italy), etc.
The collection of periodicals includes nearly 500 titles. Some of the library's titles date back to the 18th or 19th centuries, and continue to be published to this day. 271 titles of old periodicals are in French, 98 in English and 43 in German. The collection reflects the image of the scientific and technical works developed over the centuries in Europe and in the world. The main periodical titles, useful to engineers as well as places where their work is published, have been preserved: Le Génie civil (1880-1977), La Revue générale des chemins de fer (1878-1924), Le Journal de mathématiques pures et appliquées (1836-1945) and, of course, Les Annales des ponts et chaussées, created by the School in 1831.
The collection of drawings (more than 3,500 drawings, a selection of which has been digitized) includes drawings for competitions and model drawings, and spans the period from 1747 to about 1830, covering the following themes: architecture (civil, hydraulic, military, religious), maps and plans, construction, machinery, bridges, ports and roads. This collection, which is exceptional both in its richness and in the diversity of its compositions, includes the best drawings made for engineering and student competitions in the 18th century. At that time there were about fifteen competitions in architecture, bridges, roads, locks, fortifications, map drawing, leveling and ports. The drawings kept were mainly prize-winning drawings (1st and 2nd prizes, 1st and 2nd merits), and mostly for competitions in hydraulic architecture, bridges and engineering structures.
All these drawings show us that the Ponts et chaussées engineers, not content with being strong technicians or even scientists, were also often talented artists.
In the late 1850s, a collection of photographs was created to document the construction of engineering structures. The photographic collections include nearly 700 accession numbers, divided into original mounted albums and individual photographs, for approximately 10,000 prints.
Some pictures were taken by the Photographic Workshop of the School, created in 1857, or by the engineers in the field. At the same time, the collection also expanded with pictures sent from all over Europe or America, through an exchange system.
It is also important to note the contributions by photographers duly commissioned by the administration of Ponts et chaussées or by the railroad companies, for example the work of Édouard-Denis Baldus for the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean Railway Company, Auguste Collard, Ponts et chaussées photographer of the City of Paris, or Alphonse Terpereau in the Bordeaux region.
While the construction of railroads is the most frequent theme of these photographs, they also depict subjects such as the construction of the Paris metro, road bridges, maritime and port works and World Fairs.
There is also a set of old printed maps, often enhanced with watercolors, of nearly 1,500 references, from the 18th century plan of the three roads from Paris to Versailles by the plain of Grenelle to the maps of Charles-Joseph Minard (1781-1870).
The School's archives
While some documents related to the organization of the Corps, schooling, and teaching have been recorded as library manuscripts, because they were useful to students and engineers, many other files or archives provide information on the history of École des ponts et chaussées and the engineers who graduated from the School:
- The management archives include the correspondence of the Management since the 18th century, the Minutes of the School's Councils (1804-World War II), the plans of the buildings occupied by the School (10 locations from 1747 to 1845).
- The schooling of the students is documented by the registers of the students of the Corps des ponts et chaussées since 1748, the registers of the external students (civilians) from 1851, the individual files of the students from 1924 and class photos from 1857 to the 1960s.
- In addition to the bodies of courses and students' works, we also find the programs and reforms relating to teaching.
These documents are currently being published on Calames, the online catalog of archives and manuscripts of higher education.
Among the collections, private archives occupy a special place.
These have been gifted to the School since the 18th century, and come mainly from former students, engineers of the Corps or their families.
At least until the first half of the twentieth century, there was a clear desire to serve the teaching of new generations of students, incorporating an affective and corporate dimension that drove this approach. Each year, new collections are added to the collection, increasingly through a family approach of heritage transmission. Major archive holdings include:
- Octave Fradet
- Société Pelnard Considère Caquot
- Henri Maux
- Société Barbier Benard Turenne
- Eugène Mayer
- Roger Pelnard-Considère
- Henri Lang
- Albert Boris and Paul Alexandre
- Louis Noël Bertin and François Jacqmin
Some search tools are published on Calames. The current list of private collections can be found in the archive's classification plan.
Collection of busts
The School holds some twenty busts of great engineers from the 18th to the 20th century, which have been donated, bequeathed, acquired or commissioned by the Beaux-Arts administration.
These large busts were produced as tributes to illustrious engineers and scientists. They were installed in the main concourse of the School’s historic address on Rue des Saints-Pères from the mid-19th century, and were visible to all. Since 2008, they have been kept in the School's premises in Champs sur Marne, where they have finally found a more discreet home.
They were made by famous sculptors from the 18th to the mid-20th century, mostly from marble (18th-19th century) or Lens stone (20th century).
Collection of paintings
Like all administrations of a certain historical prestige, the School holds a collection of paintings of all its directors since the 18th century, with two exceptions, those of the 14th and 19th directors, Philippe Lagrange (1886-1889) and Auguste Kleine (1906-1920), respectively.
Interrupted after the 23rd director, André Brunot (1958-1967), this tradition has resumed since the 2000s in the form of black and white photographs.
The origins of these paintings are varied: some are the result of gifts or bequests, such as the portrait of Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, by Louis Michel Van Loo (1764), or one of the two portraits of Camille Onfroy de Bréville, by Édouard Dubufe (second half of the 19th century). Most of them are commissions from the School's management to well-known painters. Jules Lefebvre in particular, Grand Prix de Rome 1861 and member of the Institute, produced a small number of portraits between 1874 and 1901 approximately. Others are "family works", such as the portrait of Chaumont de la Millière, painted by his daughter, Angélique Joséphine Louise Héron de Villefosse (1781) or that of Louis Bruyère, painted by his wife, née Élise Le Barbier (ca 1809-1815). The last portrait, that of André Brunot, is a work by Nina Vidrovitch, a drawing teacher at the School in the 1960s and daughter of the Corps engineer, Rémy Vidrovitch.
Formerly displayed in the salons or staircases of the School in Paris, these paintings are now kept in storage for their protection and proper conservation. However, they are regularly loaned for exhibitions and have been newly photographed.
Collection of instruments, models and machines
From their creation in the mid-18th century, the Bureau des Dessinateurs du Roi and then École des ponts et chaussées were very close to the Ponts et chaussées repository, especially since they all had the same director, Jean-Rodolphe Perronet.
From then on, the boundaries between the archives and objects belonging to one entity or the another became difficult to establish.
Scientific and drawing instruments, machines, and models were made available for student instruction; major collections that the students themselves would contribute to when they were sent on assignment.
Even after the Decree of 1804 separating the School from the administration of Public Works, many of these collections remained at the School, forming what later became the repositories of instruments, machines and models. They were enriched very early on by donations and later by deposits from the Ministry.
The repository department appears in the organizational charts of the School as early as 1859.
The models were kept in the model gallery, a typical glass and metal construction located at 26, Rue des Saints-Pères, until its demolition at the end of 1954. Some of them, including those of Perronet or Lesage, were then dispersed and deposited in museums or in the Equipment services. Others, judged to be of no value or in very poor condition, were destroyed.
The mission of the instrument and machine repositories was to maintain a useful collection for the engineers and to provide them with instruments when necessary. Items borrowed and returned were scrupulously recorded.
Little by little, in the last third of the twentieth century, these instruments lost their usefulness and the service eventually disappeared; along with the instruments. What remains of the collection today is currently being inventoried.