Social documentation centers


In 1920, Albert Kahn turned the notion of “documentation” into something concrete and applied it in two different ways.

Its first application took the form of a public limited company named the Centre de Documentation, which included in one single structure The Archives de la Planète, the CNESP and (later in 1927) a biology laboratory. In its second iteration, he founded a social documentation center at Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) on the rue d’Ulm, endowed with annual financing of twenty thousand francs.


For the patron, it was about fulfilling a need: knowledge about economic and social realities in documentary resources meant for researchers. Kahn was aware that contemporary society was not studied enough, specifically from a scientific perspective.


The sociologist Célestin Bouglé directed this new establishment open to students from ENS and the University of Paris, as well as workers who were interested. The documentary material provided was both national and international.


Since Kahn’s initial project was so vast, other centers were created: at ENS for young ladies (Sèvres) in 1927 as well at Grandes Ecoles and small-town universities. At the law school in Bordeaux, an Institute of Economic and Social Studies and Documentation was created in 1921. Co-financed by Kahn, its initial purpose was research and teaching, before eventually becoming Sciences Po Bordeaux.