Olivier received the French agrégation in history and is a professor of contemporary history at the University of Toulouse. He was director of the CNRS research group FRAMESPA (Social history from the Middle Ages to today) from 2005-2013. He was elected Vice-President of International Relations at this university in June 2012.
Olivier specializes in small-scale industries (watchmaking, making eyeglasses, hat making) and in different models of economic development. His habilitation compared the French, Scandinavian, and Swiss cases of economic development in the 19th century. He has written a number of books and articles on these subjects, and created the concept of "soft industrialization", a process by which small production units, often in rural areas, played a large role in the industrialization of Continental Europe in the 19th century.
His current research focuses more specifically on the history of aviation and industrialization in France, Switzerland, and Scandinavia over the longue durée.
Une industrie à la campagne. Le canton de Morez entre 1780 et 1914, [An industry in the countryside: the town of Morez 1780-1914] Salins-les-Bains, musée des techniques et cultures comtoises, 2002, 131 p. Received the Lucien Febvre award for history.
With Natalie Petiteau and Sylvie Caucanas (ed.), Les Européens dans les guerres napoléoniennes [Europeans in the Napoleonic wars], Toulouse, Privat, 2012, 260 p.
(ed.), Histoire de l'armée de l'air et des forces aériennes françaises du XVIIIe siècle à nos jours [History of the French Air Force since the 18th century to the present], Toulouse, Privat, 2014, 552 p.
With Alain Cortat (eds.), Le profit dans les PME, perspectives historiques, XIXe-XXe siècles, Neuchâtel, Éditions Alphil - Presses universitaires suisses, 2014, 220 p.