Brunhes divides the historical provinces into six groups, according to their geographical location and the character of their historical development. A group in the centre of the Seine basin, the middle Loire, and the basin of the Garonne, served as nuclei of crystallization for distinct provinces. These are the Île de France; Guyenne and Gascony; Lyonnais, Forez, Beaujolais; Touraine, Maine, and Anjou; Alsace. A second group lies on routeways astride the great lowlands -- Poitou, Champagne, Picardy and Artois, Burgundy (with Nivernais) and Languedoc -- each of which had a wide field of influence, intellectual, commercial and political.
A third group contains what were formerly important centres but are now of secondary importance. All of them are situated in the centre of France, between Chartres in the north and Saint-Flour in the south. They include Auvergne, Berry, Bourbonnais, OrlÉannais and Nivernais. These provinces have suffered particularly through the lack of capital cities sufficiently strong to offset the dominating influence of Paris. The fourth group are isolated, thinly peopled provinces in the barren high plateau of central France; nevertheless, these provinces are distinct, and their names and character are strongly entrenched in popular feeling and usage -- Limousin and Marche; PÉrigord and Quercy; Rouergue; GÉvaudan; Velay and Vivarais. The fifth group are the frontier provinces which have been absorbed, in part or in their entirety, into France during its expansionist phase when attempting to reach its so-called "natural frontiers" on the Rhine and the watersheds of the Alps and Pyrenees in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These provinces are Roussillon and Cerdagne in the eastern Pyrenees; Foix, Andorra, Quatre-VallÉes and Bigorre in the central Pyrenees; BÉarn, Navarre and the Basque country in the western Pyrenees; the DauphinÉ, Briançonnais and Savoy in the Alps; Flanders, Lorraine, Barrois, and the three bishoprics ( Metz, Toul and Verdun) in Lorraine; and Franche ComtÉ in the east. The sixth group includes the maritime frontier provinces of Provence in the south-east, with Corsica across the water; Brittany and Normandy in the north-west; and Aunis and Boulonnais, two small provinces on the western and northern coastlands respectively.
The scheme drawn up by the ComitÉ de Constitution in 1789 for the new administrative departments was based upon these historical provinces, although the names of the provinces were dropped and the dÉpartements named after principal topographic features. The dÉpartements corresponded usually to one province or a group of two or three departments to one province. The dÉpartements all have roughly the same area and were so designed that the central city could be reached within one whole day by road. Each dÉpartement was divided into three or four divisions called arrondissements, and these again into about ten divisions, called cantons. The same principle of approximately equal size with a centrally placed town as administrative centre was observed throughout. A main political problem that has persisted since the French Revolution is that of offsetting the centralization of affairs in Paris by democratic government in units larger than the dÉpartements. This has taken many forms -- separatism, federalism, administrative decentralization and regionalism. Though these solutions differ in their political aspects they have a large measure of common ground in that they recognize the need for new units that are neither the dÉpartements nor an attempted revival of the provinces, but are based on the real socio-economic groupings of today. Growing partly from the ancient provinces, but in large measure reoriented around the chief regional centres, there have emerged in the last hundred years new provinces or regions. Here have crystallized both the imposed regionalization of nation-wide activities, and the spontaneous development of regional activities, with their founts in the leading cities. The problem of defining new Regions is, in fact, an attempt to define the areas of social and economic association that have emerged in the structure of modern society.