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The best-known Paris university was not just an added extra to the city. In many ways it and the growth of a complex of partly-religious partly-educational buildings actually created the city. Throughout the Middle Ages the Sorbonne and nearby religious institutions drew the sons of young wealthy people towards Paris from across Europe.
For nearly eight centuries its students have included many of the most radical thinkers and activists – often ready to challenge the status quo that was more often than not represented by the university’s teachers.
Among the left students who passed through the Sorbonne were Lenin’s younger sister – a few years after he had been invited to lecture there on the Russian agrarian question. Lucie Aubrac, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre also studied there.
One exception to the dominant anti-radical teachers at the Sorbonne was Marc Bloch, who taught there from 1936 to 1940 when he was dismissed for being Jewish.
In May 1968 the Sorbonne was at the centre of the student demonstrations that had begun at Nanterre. Partly as a result it was divided in 1970 into several different institutions and several now include the word ‘Sorbonne’ in their titles.