Since 1968, the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme has occupied the building on the angle of boulevard Raspail and the rue du Cherche-Midi at the site of Paris’ former “Cherche-Midi” military prison (picture on right).
The site dates back to the Ancien Régime.
In 1688, Louis XIV handed over a building on the rue du Cherche-Midi, taken from Calvanist Léonard Laudouin, to the Good Sheppard’s girls’ community. Secularized during the Revolution, the Good Sheppard’s home was then passed on to the Minister of War who used the location as a base camp for outfitting the Paris garrison. It was then used as a warehouse for the army’s living supplies. In 1847, the convent was torn down to make way for Paris’ new military prison, replacing the Abbey Prison.
From 1800 to 1907, War Councils were based at 37 rue du Cherche-Midi while the military prison and correctional facility were located across the street at number 38, the current site of the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. Largely inspired by the American Auburnian prison system (Auburn prison, New York), this cellular prison could hold two hundred military detainees. The correctional regime consisted of collective work in silence during the day and cell isolation at night.
On June 10 and 12, 1940, as the German troops were preparing to take the capital, the Santé and Cherche-Midi prisons were evacuated. The prison population composed of military officials with ordinary sentences, deserters, draft dodgers and political detainees, was moved south of the Loire to the Gurs internment camp (Pyrénées-Atlantiques). Following the retreat and the installation of Paris’ military tribunals in Périgueux (Dordogne), a new military prison was created in November 1940. It was called the “Prison Militaire de Paris Repliée à Mauzac” (Fall Back Military Prison of Paris in Mauzac).
During the entire occupation period, Paris’ Cherche-Midi Prison was entirely under German control. After the liberation of Paris, the prison was used to hold German prisoners of war.
The site was a military prison from December 30, 1851 until December 1, 1947. Once it finished holding prisoners, the site became the headquarters of the military tribunal. From December 1, 1947 until March 18, 1950, the Cherche-Midi was controlled by the Ministry of Justice and became a simple detention center. Dirty and dilapidated, the building was torn down in 1966.
Since 1976, the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme has been sharing its home with the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. The building, with a modern allure, is the work of architects Henri Beauclair, Serge Capelle, Paul Depondt, Marcel Lods, and André Malizard.