The Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes was established by imperial decree on 31 July 1868 at the initiative of Victor Duruy, then Minister of Education under Emperor Napoleon III. Its purpose was to introduce research in academia and, more importantly, to promote academic training through research, thereby advancing a practical form of scholarship designed to produce knowledge and to be taught in seminars and laboratories, as was being practiced in Germany at the time.
In a report prepared for the Emperor, Victor Duruy defined what was expected of the EPHE. Faculty members were to distinguish themselves by their dedication, their availability, their accessibility to all and by advancing a form of education dispensed within the framework of a direct relationship between a master and his disciples. No requirements of academic qualification, age or nationality were imposed on students. Only an internship was necessary to ensure they had the required capacity and vocation to take advantage of courses offered in the Sections.
The EPHE originally had four Sections: First established were Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry; Natural Sciences and Physiology; Philological and Historical Sciences. The Economics Section followed in 1869 but was not developed. The Religious Sciences Section was added in 1886. A sixth Section, called Economic and Social Sciences, was created after the Second World War.
Three Sections subsist today: Earth and Life Sciences, Historical and Philological Sciences, Religious Sciences. The sixth Section became the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in 1975.
Many renowned scholars have lectured at the EPHE or worked in its laboratories. We may cite the following:
Emile Benveniste (1928-1975), Fernand Braudel (1938-1953), Claude Bernard, Marcellin Berthelot, Michel Bréal (1893-1913), Paul Broca, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, Henry Corbin (1938-1977), Georges Dumézil (1933-1967), Lucien Febvre (1943-1947), Étienne Gilson (1930-1941), Marcel Granet (1930-1939), Joseph Halévy (1887-1916), Bernard Halpern, Alexandre Kojève (1933-1939), Alexandre Koyré (1931-1961), Camille-Ernest Labrousse (1936-1952), Claude Lévi-Strauss (1950-1967), Sylvain Lévy, Alfred Loisy, Auguste Longnon (1887-1911), Gaston Maspero (1872-1915), Louis Massignon (1932-1957), Marcel Mauss (1930-1938), Gabriel Monod (1887-1911), Gaston Paris (1887-1904), Lucie Randoin, Jean Rouch (1959-1992), Emile Roux, Ferdinand de Saussure, William Henry Waddington, Henri Wallon.