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European Police Systems, 18th-19th century. – SYSPOE

A comparative history of policing in Europe

SYSPOE aims to study comparatively police systems, defined as configurations created between the different actors of policing in a given space, in European countries and their colonial territories, during the 18th and 19th century, and how they were constructed and transformed. It aspires to build the first step for a European history of policing and police forces, to contribute to a better knowledge of European societies by studying their forms of regulation.

The construction of European police systems

: The SYSPOE project, contrary to a tradition of writing the history of police in different national historiographies, wants to compare throughout Europe and its colonial territories the configurations of policing according the different categories of space, of situations and objects on which they developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, a crucial period for the emergence of modern police systems. These matters echoe to some actual debates on security policies in Europe. They examine the optimal articulation between the different police agencies and the integration of new actors of security – municipal police forces and private security contractors. Being primary targets for the governments, terrorist threats, large criminal organizations and illegal traffics contribute to the evolution of the assignements of some agencies to police work, as customs, and tend to integrate in the perimeter of domestic security forces traditionnally active against external threats, questioning the relations between civilian police forces and military organizations.<br />SYSPOE aims at casting light on these issues by the historical study of the construction and reconfiguration of European police systems since the 18th century. It will design analytical tools to understand actual police systems, by exposing how configurations of police institutions are constructed and connected together, at various scales (local, national and transnational).<br />

The program is based on a comparative study, throughout Europe and its colonial extensions, at various scales, of police systems. We study the forms of these configurations over different types of space (metropolitan cities, peculiar rural areas, colonial territories), of situations (from extreme, local entanglement of multiple police forces to the wider interactions of large police agencies), of specific moments and objects, selected for their role in the transformation of policing and making comparison possible. The research program is a combination of the study of case studies and a cycle of workshops on the history of police systems.




The SYSPOE project takes place in the renewal of police studies in the field of social sciences. It aims at studying police systems, defined as configurations composed by the various actors of policing in a given space, in Europe and its colonial possessions in the 18th and 19th centuries, in a comparative perspective and at the crossroads of different disciplines. Supported by 4 research units, this project gathers 14 permanent researchers, historians of the 18th and 19th centuries, but also a sociologist and a political scientist. It combines a general, interdisciplinary reflection on police systems through a research seminar, and specific archival research delimited by 5 thematic workpackages : police systems and circulations ; police systems and colonial territories ; plural policing ; military culture and police systems ; police systems, crisis, revolutions and disasters. It aims at building the preliminary fundations for a European history of police forces, contributing to a better comprehension of European societies in the 18th and 19th centuries by observing their forms of regulation, and illuminating by the expertise of historical reflection some issues on the contemporary police systems.

Project coordination

Vincent DENIS (Modernités, Révolutions) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


TELEMME UMR 6570 Temps, Espaces, Langages, Europe Méridionale, Méditerranée
CRHQ UMR 6583 Centre de Recherche en Histoire Quantitative
EA 127 Modernités, Révolutions
IRHIS UMR 8529 Institut de Recherche Historique du Septentrion

Help of the ANR 199,937 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2012 - 36 Months

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