Collections of archives and manuscripts

From 18th-century illustrated travel diaries to the deliberations of the current governing body, the archives (sets of documents produced by an institution or person in the context of their activities) and manuscripts (drafts or proofs of texts, letters, notes, data collection notebooks, drawings, documentary files, etc.) tell the history of the Muséum. They testify more widely to the scientific research, the natural history expeditions and the different professions that have contributed to fulfilling the missions of this great research, teaching and cultural dissemination establishment.


The institutional archives are produced by the administrative and scientific activities of the central administration, laboratories, galleries, Muséum departments and their different entities, for all of the sites: Jardin des Plantes, Musée de l’Homme, Parc zoologique de Paris, Versailles-Chèvreloup Arboretum, etc. They record all the aspects of the Muséum’s activities (statements of decisions taken by the governing bodies, changes in the administrative organisation, careers of the staff members, budgets, building plans and works programming, records of collections) and document the general history of the sciences. Thus, the archives of the Musée de l’Homme are in great demand today by those interested in the debates surrounding the evolution of anthropology and ethnology. The archives of associations, such as the Société des Amis du Muséum (Society of Friends of the Muséum), are also kept there.

The personal manuscripts and archives gather together isolated pieces and collections of variable size relating to the activity of a personality, most often a scholar. Among the collections transmitted under the former French monarchy to the Cabinet du Roi, then to the Muséum’s library in the 19th century, can be found manuscripts and drawings of the scientific exploration voyages of Philibert Commerson, a companion to Bougainville, and also of Alcide d’Orbigny, a student of Georges Cuvier. The manuscripts of many books that made their mark in the history of science - such as Recherches sur une propriété nouvelle de la matière (Researches into a new property of matter) by Henri Becquerel - are also present, often with their original plates. Large collections of correspondence are included in the manuscript collection, and the personal collections bequeathed or donated by scholars illustrate their respective roles, and the role of the Muséum, in the development and outreach of scientific research. These include archives from the Jussieu family, the Jardin administrator and professor André Thouin, the naturalist Georges Cuvier, the chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul and the prehistorian Henri Breuil.

The institutional and personal archives complement one another. Some of the personal collections contain documents linked to the basic research of their authors as well as archives relating to their private life, or scientific or administrative role in the institution. These thereby record the author’s career pathway and demonstrate the interpenetration of personal, social, scientific and professional domains. Thus, the Paul Rivet collection is a valuable addition to the archives of the Musée d’ethnographie du Trocadéro (Trocadéro Museum of Ethnography) and the Musée de l’Homme, and the Théodore Monod collection greatly contributes to the archives of the Laboratoire des Pêches coloniales (Laboratory of Colonial Fishing) and the Laboratoire des Pêches d’outre-mer (Laboratory of Overseas Fishing).

There is a necessary complementarity between the natural history collections and the collections of manuscripts and archives, since these latter help to understand, contextualise and interpret the former.


Under the old monarchial regime, documents serving the Jardin du Roi’s superintendents and scholars were conserved with the other collections of the Cabinet. The library was created during the French Revolution by the Muséum’s founding decree and it inherited manuscripts of scientific works alongside administrative documents such as grain and seed catalogues.

As a consequence of the growing reputation of the institution throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the library became the destination for vast collections compiled by the scientists of the establishment. Field notebooks, data collection notebooks, drawings, correspondence, manuscripts, etc. These highly varied collections are still growing today through an active policy to acquire the collections of researchers and learned societies, through deposits, donations and acquisitions.

Although some of the institutional archives produced by the Muséum’s central administration were sent to the National Archives (sub-series AJ 15) in 1934 and 1936, many documents, particularly those covering the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century, have remained in the collections. In 2002, the Direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation (Management of Libraries and Documentation) was assigned the task of producing institutional archives for all of the Muséum’s sites. The archives produced by the Muséum’s departments are collected for the central library through the intermediary of the libraries specialised in the collection and consultation of some laboratory collections.

Contact and means of consultation

The archives and manuscripts are listed in the Calames catalogue.

The conditions for consulting these collections can be found on the Muséum libraries website.

Please address any questions to the distance information service.

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