The government of the Second Empire was characterised by the strengthening of executive power in the hands of Napoleon III. The ministers and their administrations answered only to the head of state and obeyed his every desire. All civil servants had to swear allegiance to the 1852 Constitution and to the emperor. Ministers were appointed by Napoleon III, who could also dismiss them at will. Therefore, there were regular ministerial reshuffles throughout the Second Empire.

The Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, led by ministers Hippolyte Fortoul (1851-1856), Gustave Rouland (1856-1863) and Victor Duruy (1863-1869), was organised into several offices and one division. The science and arts division grouped together the large scientific establishments, such as the Muséum d’Histoire naturelle, but was also responsible for scientific funding for the development of research.

An active participant in historical research

The ministry, thanks to the different commissions for which it was responsible, maintained a permanent link with scholarly societies. This was particularly the case for the Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques (CTHS) and the Commission de Topographie des Gaules. Both relied on local scholars for their archaeological and historical research, which allowed the ministry to maintain some control of scholars’ activities.

From research to museums

As for the imperial museums, they were placed under the responsibility of the superintendent of the Beaux-Arts, Count de Nieuwerkerke, under the Ministry of the Maison de l’Empereur. It was 1870 before these museums came under the Ministry of Education.

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