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Inscription over the entrance to the Sorbonne
The front of the Sorbonne Building
Sorbonne Square (Place de la Sorbonne)

The name Sorbonne (La Sorbonne) is commonly used to refer to the historic University of Parismarker in Parismarker, Francemarker or one of its successor institutions (see below), but this is a recent usage, and "Sorbonne" has actually been used with different meanings over the centuries.

For information on the historic University of Parismarker and the present universities, which are its successor institutions or the Collège de Sorbonnemarker, please refer to the relevant articles.

The Collège de Sorbonne

The name is derived from the Collège de Sorbonnemarker, founded in 1253 by Robert de Sorbon as one of the first significant colleges of the medieval University of Parismarker; the university as such predates the college by about a century, and minor colleges had been founded already in the late 12th century. The Collège de Sorbonne was suppressed during the French revolution, reopened by Napoleon in 1808 and finally closed in 1882. This was only one of the many colleges of the University of Paris that existed until the French revolution. Hastings Rashdall, in The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages (1895), which is still a standard reference on the topic, lists some 70 colleges of the university from the Middle Ages alone; some of these were short-lived and disappeared already before the end of the medieval period, but others were founded in the Early modern period, like the Collège des Quatre-Nationsmarker.

The Paris Faculty of Theology

With time, the college came to be the centre of theological studies and "Sorbonne" was frequently used as a synonym for the Paris Faculty of Theology despite being only one of many colleges of the university.

The entire University of Paris

During the later part of the 19th century, the buildings of the Collège de Sorbonne were re-used for the Faculties of Sciences and Letters of what was at the time known as the Academy of Paris, the name used for the faculties of the former University of Paris within the centralized structure known as the University of France, created in 1808 but dissolved into its constituent universities again in 1896. As a result of this, "Sorbonne" became a colloquial term for the entire University of Parismarker.

The use of Sorbonne for the Faculty of Theology is the usage still noted in the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition (1910–1911) and the Catholic Encyclopedia from 1913, neither of which yet indicate that the word could stand for the university as a whole. Even though neither of these early 20th century English-language encyclopedias is likely to have been up-to-date with current French usage, it still shows that this was an innovation and not yet widely spread.

The Sorbonne today

In 1970, the University of Paris was divided into thirteen different universities. These universities still stand under the management of a common rectorate – the Rectorate of Paris - with offices in the Sorbonne. Four of these universities currently include the name "Sorbonne" in their names or are affiliated with the Sorbonne:

These four public universities maintain facilities in the historical building of the Sorbonne. The building also houses the Rectorate of Paris, the École Nationale des Chartes, the École pratique des hautes études, the Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne and the Library of the Sorbonne.

There are private institution that bears the name of its creator: College de Sorbon (in the Ardennes) and the Ecole supérieure Robert de Sorbon which is specialized in VAE Degrees.

Today the word Sorbonne no longer refers to the University of Paris but to the historical building located in the Latin Quartermarker in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.


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