What are the sources for studying the metropolization of Greater Paris?

The administrative directories represent a unique entry key to understanding the functioning and evolution over time of the metropolization of Paris.

Digitized in December 2019 by the Archives de Paris, the « OAS » directories (for “Organisation et Attributions des Services du département de la Seine et de la Ville de Paris”) were published in the “Recueil des Actes Administratifs de la préfecture de la Seine”  since its creation in 1844. Appended to each volume until 1883, then completely integrated, they present the detailed state of the services and personnel of the Seine. This source was chosen as a gateway to the study of the Greater Paris area, with the aim of better understanding the distribution and evolution of the competences of the administrative services linked to the development of urban planning in Paris and its immediate suburbs.

After an initial analysis of the contents of the « OAS » directories, we carried out an enrichment with the partner institutions (Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Ponts), in order to complete the years for which we had no data (the collection of the Archives de Paris extends from 1883 to 1995 and has gaps) but also to identify documents that could provide additional information and enrich the directories. 

Among these complementary sources, we have selected the Almanachs de France (almost all available on Gallica), the Annuaires du commerce (partly available on Gallica under the successive titles Almanachs du commerce de Paris, Almanach-Bottin du commerce de Paris, Annuaire-Almanach du commerce de Paris) and the Bottins administratifs for which a digitization campaign will be necessary.

These sources provide us with very rich information on the hierarchy of the services, their location in Paris and the inner suburbs, their responsibilities but also the people who managed them. How can this mass of information be exploited? What information to extract and with what tools?

Extract from the OAS directory of 1885 (Archives de Paris – left) and from the Almanach national (BnF – right)

The directories often have the same structure, but for one year one source may be richer than another: in figure 1 we see that the OAS directories indicate the first names but also the names of persons in certain services (here the “commis principal” of the “Secrétariat du directeur”).

Fig. 2 : Excerpt from the OAS directory 1885. Detail

Our objective is to exploit these data: as they follow a precise structure, which is repeated, we can isolate the names of services (in red in figure 2), the names of persons (in blue, distinguishing surnames, first names, decoration, grade), addresses (in green), functions (in orange). Tools for extracting this information are currently being tested: the documents must first be ocerized, then they can be used with machine learning technology, such as GROBID Dictionary.

Currently, the cartography of the sources is almost completed, it will give rise to a guide to the sources of Greater Paris from 1790 to the 1980s. 

Elsa Camus

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