The École normale supérieure was created in Paris in 1794, during the French Revolution, to train the nation’s future teachers according to the critical and secular spirit of the new Republic. In 1847, the École normale supérieure moved to its current location on rue d’Ulm, on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève near the Sorbonne and the Collège de France.
Early on, the École normale supérieure became home to elite research. In the mid-19th century, Louis Pasteur carried out his pioneering work within its walls. For decades, the ENS has been the most prestigious site of French intellectual and scientific life. It participated in all the great intellectual debates of modern France, from the Dreyfus Affair to the movements of the 1930s, and from the foundation of the human sciences to the avant-garde movements of the 1970s. It educated entire generations of high-ranking civil servants and politicians, scientists and entrepreneurs, and provided intellectual training for Nobel laureates, Fields Medal winners and intellectual luminaries like Sartre, Foucault, Lacan and Derrida.
Not content to rest on its laurels, the ENS continues its fundamental mission of training its students to the role of leaders capable of bringing their creative vision and innovative solutions to bear on the increasingly complex and global issues of today’s world. It does this through its dedication to assembling the world’s most distinguished experts to teach its students to conduct pioneering research that transcends the traditional disciplinary boundaries.
Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895)
The illustrious savant, administrator and director of scientific studies for the ENS was authority and discipline incarnate. From his arrival in 1857 on, he regularly proposed reforms that he believed to be indispensable. He modernized the laboratories and created, in 1864, the Scientific Annales of the ENS, a high-level publication that ensured the ENS’s new influence at home and abroad.
Simone Weil (1909 – 1943)
Philosopher, union supporter, militant and mystic, Simone Weil was a top intellectual, engaged in all major events and combats of her time (the strikes of 1935-36, Popular Front, Spanish War, the Resistance).
Watch the ENS tribute to Simone Weil
Aimé Césaire (1913 – 2008)
A renowned poet during his lifetime and a French politician, deputy of the Martinique and mayor of Fort-de-France for several decades, Aimé Césaire was a fervent humanist. He coined, with Léopold Sedar Sanghor in particular, the concept of “negritude” and helped the Martinique colony to become a French département.
Watch the tribute to Aimé Césaire
Assia Djebar (1936-2015)
Historian, writer and movie-maker, Assia Djebar is the first Algerian and the first Muslim woman to integrate the ENS. She has been a member of the Royal Academy of French languages and literature of Belgium (Académie royale de langue et de literature française), an elected member of the French Academy (Académie française) and doctor honoris causa of sereral foreign universities. She was one of the spokesperson of the emancipation of Algerian women and the fight against colonialism.
Régis Debray (born in 1940)
Regis Debray was ranked first in the competitive examination for integrating the ENS. After he graduated, he went to Bolivia, following Che Guevara. There he was captured and jailed for four years. After his release, he was in charge of the international relations for François Mitterrand, the President of the French Republic at the time. After that, he founded a new field of study, mediology, which analyses the links between technique and culture.
Annick Suzor-Weiner (promotion 1969)
This physicist, university professor of the highest rank, is specialized in atomic, molecular and optic physics. She is an active member of several learned societies and is part of the French Commission for UNESCO and the International Basic Science Program of UNESCO. She is also the Counselor for Science and Technology at the French Embassy in Washington, thus contributing to France’s scientific and intellectual influence in the world.