In the last ten years, a significant development in the study of urban history has allowed French historians to begin to consider some of the problems which have preoccupied their foreign colleagues, notably in Britain and the United States, for some time. The attraction of the town for the French historian is due, clearly enough, to two main factors. On the one hand, the town's growing dominance over the location of employment and population is bound to attract attention—in 1980 80 per cent of the population of France live in towns, exactly reversing the distribution of 200 years ago. On the other hand, this same distension of the town demands historical attention. It places the town at the centre of a very long-term development in which the urban criterion becomes increasingly dominant, defining a particularly appropriate field for the measurement of the linking mechanisms which regulate relationships between the different levels of social reality. Urbanity, in short, brings together the whole gamut of questions posed by the development of our system of civilization over the centuries. To reconstruct its history is to indulge in nostalgia for a past which appears all the richer in comparison with the drabness of our own day. It is also to dream of a city of the future, capable of reconciling community and social control, nature and culture. In France the history of towns is inseparable from a long process of examination which began with the humanist enthusiasm for the city, continued through the speculations of the Enlightenment and the tentative researches of nineteenth-century local anti-quarians, and has recently been supplemented by the more precise discoveries of the urban historian.