In 1826 he joined the staff of the Journal des Débats, but subsequently transferred his pen to the National. Under the empire he was inspector-general of education (1852) and Director of the École normal (1857–1867).
Nisard's literary reputation was established by his Histoire de la littérature française (1844–1861). This work helped to secured his election to the Académie française in 1850 as seat 39. His other works include Études d'histoire et de littérature (1859–1864), and Les Quatres grands historiens latins (1875).