Policing and Territories across Napoleonic Europe. From Local to Imperial Scale

Antoine Renglet's picture
Call for Papers
March 15, 2021
Subject Fields: 
European History / Studies, Modern European History / Studies

Napoleonic policing offers the paradox of being both familiar and little explored. Few periods in police historiography have given rise to so many myths as the Consulate and the First French Empire; the fancied omnipotence of Napoleon’s police still today feeds on the fascination for state conspiracies and the great figures of the regime who themselves often contributed – as early as the 19th century – to build an enduring aura of mystery around the institution. In recent years, however, more and more research has been developing to fundamentally renew our knowledge of the various aspects of policing under Napoleonic rule. While insights into specific policing practices or specific regions of the Empire are now available to highlight heterogeneity, partial modernization efforts and the problems encountered in sensitive areas of imperial control, it must be underlined that many remits of the Empire’s policing system remain grey areas.

         The aim of this international conference is to question the link between policing and the imperial space by exploring issues of administration, policing practices and territorial control in both the so-called départements de l’intérieur and those annexed—as well as in all other spaces under imperial control (such as satellite states and overseas territories). Its ambition will be to highlight the diversity of policing configurations and their respective evolutions across the Empire by comparing several space profiles (old départements vs. new annexed ones, border départements vs. rural ones of “central France”, colonies, areas under military rule, etc.) and to gather these profiles into a comprehensive picture allowing us to question multiple aspects of public order for each of them on various scales. It will thus become possible to examine the types of interdependence created between the different levels of the policing hierarchy and the different spaces of the Empire in order to outline the networks of surveillance and control connecting all territories administered by the imperial regime and its local bureaucracies.

         A first line of inquiry will seek to question the existence or absence of a centralized police system by re-examining the relationship between center and periphery(ies). This line of study will also question the interplay between policing and politics by considering the relationship between local public order and directives from Paris. In this perspective, the role of the Conseillers d’État in charge of the police districts created by Fouché offers a relevant point of reference – among others - for understanding how information and directives circulated between central and local levels. This initial approach also makes it possible to compare different spaces and to question the coexistence of several "police worlds" within the Napoleonic space: as opposed to a number of départements considered as "sensitive" and focusing police attention and resources, others - especially rural ones – seem to be neglected (as they also have been by past or present historiography). It also invites to observe how legacies of the past were reinterpreted within law enforcement practices, how former lower police agents were sometime kept in place, and how policing technologies that were already existing under the Ancien Régime were still in use. It will therefore become possible to explore the multiple ways in which the maintenance of public order manifested itself in these different spaces by further questioning how - and by whom - policing was exercised when material and financial means were insufficient. We will thus consider the specific role of municipalities in maintaining law and order at first local level and that of prefects at département level; we will also consider how, on an even more microscopic scale, public order was exercised with the assistance of various socio-institutional agents: police officers, gendarmes, military forces, national guards, country and forest rangers—as well as parish priests, notables, etc. This comparative perspective must be enriched by contributions focused on public order in the French colonies and aiming to consider the specificity or similarity of such spaces in terms of policing; likewise with contributions on the various satellite spaces (Kingdom of Westphalia, Kingdom of Naples, etc.) and questioning in particular the interactions between the imperial authorities and their local counterparts. In addition, the analysis of the workings of the imperial police system and its bureaucracy must not lead us to overlook the issue of police archives. Particular attention will therefore be paid to their characteristics and uses.

            A second line of inquiry will aim to discuss the existence of policing connections on an Empire-wide scale through the examination of several alternative configurations. By taking into account recent developments in historiography related in particular to the imperial turn concept, this multi-scale analysis perspective will make it possible to highlight the adaptations of the imperial policing apparatus to the various local, regional and trans-regional contexts in which the Napoleonic police - or the various agents in charge of policing missions - had to act. As shown by the collective work recently edited by Catherine Denys, administrative models circulate and hybridize in contact with the fields where they are established; in this perspective, we must not only focus on studying the transmission of orders "from above" and their application - or absence of application - on the ground but also on the horizontal circulation of practices, information and even individuals. The third police district – corresponding to the départements beyond the Alps - provides, for example, a privileged point of observation for the analysis of exchanges between the offices of the Directions Générales (Turin, Florence and Rome), the Commissariats Généraux (Genoa, Livorno) and the Italian prefectures. At the imperial level, the territorial network thus emerging extends far beyond the département – however much officials always referred to it as the essential starting point – and compels us to examine the "trans-state" surveillance strategies implemented by policing institutions, as well as by imperial and allied state diplomatic services. In this regard, it is equally necessary to take into account policing connections established between officials posted in the border areas of Napoleonic Europe. By exploring policing geographies on the margins of the Empire, this perspective makes it possible to rethink the dynamics of state control right along political borders as well as beyond them. This approach will therefore enable us to consider the multiple facets of the overall "imperial model" of policing built by the Napoleonic administration in the European space at the beginning of the 19th century.

Proposals in French, Italian or English (max. 2500 signs) should be sent with a short curriculum vitae to jeannelaurelequang@gmail.com, antoine.renglet@uclouvain.be and francescosaggiorato@gmail.com by March 15, 2021.


Steering comittee :

Jeanne-Laure Le Quang (Université Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne)

Antoine Renglet (Université catholique de Louvain)

Francesco Saggiorato (Università di Roma, Tor Vergata – Université Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne)

Aurélien Lignereux (IEP-Grenoble)

Marina Formica (Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”)

Chiara Lucrezio Monticelli (Università di Roma “Tor Vergata”)


Scientific comittee :

Gilles Bertrand (Université de Grenoble)

Jacques-Olivier Boudon (Université Paris 4-Sorbonne)

Michael Broers (Oxford University)

Vincent Denis (Université Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne)

Catherine Denys (Université de Lille)

Laura Di Fiore (Università Francesco II – Napoli)

Maria Pia Donato (CNRS Paris-IHMC)

Stefano Levati (Università di Milano)

Virginie Martin (Université Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne)

Xavier Rousseaux (Université catholique de Louvain/FNRS)


Location :

Rome: Palazzo Caetani ; Museo napoleonico di Roma


Dates :

22-24 September 2021