A forgotten prophet: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and the quest for an Universal Book
Paul is gaining recognition from all over the world. Slowly, but still.
“Paul Otlet openly admitted in his Traité de documentation that his quest to create a Universal Book was a radical assumption. He was driven in his bibliographical interests by the ever-expanding volume of printed matter that began to accumulate globally from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Its sheer size frustrated Otlet, as did the possibility of all this information, unnecessarily duplicating itself and thereby stalling the inevitable march of progress across wide areas of knowledge and research.”
Bun ós coinn ★
The future of the Web is 100 years old
The ideas are not new, the implementations are.
In the debate between structure and openness, 19th-century ideas are making a comeback ~ “The web has played such a powerful role in shaping our world that it can sometimes seem like a fait accompli – the inevitable result of progress and enlightened thinking. A deeper look into the historical record, though, reveals a different story: The web in its current state was by no means inevitable. Not only were there competing visions for how a global knowledge network might work, divided along cultural and philosophical lines, but some of those discarded hypotheses are coming back into focus as researchers start to envision the possibilities of a more structured, less volatile web.”
(Alex Wright a.k.a. @alexgrantwright ~ Nautilus Issue 21) ★
The secret history of hypertext: The conventional history of computing leaves out some key thinkers
Great to see this article appear in the publication where it all started, according to US history. Finally, some historical truth being added.
“Historians of technology often cite Bush’s essay as the conceptual forerunner of the Web. And hypertext pioneers like Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee have all acknowledged their debt to Bush’s vision. But for all his lasting influence, Bush was not the first person to imagine something like the Web. (…) For all his remarkable prescience, Bush never predicted anything like the Internet. That credit rightly goes to Otlet.”
(Alex Wright a.k.a. @alexgrantwright ~ The Atlantic)
The lady and the antelope: Suzanne Briet’s contribution to the French Documentation Movement
Remarkable woman in the Paul Otlet trajectory.
“During her thirty years at the Bibliothèque Nationale (BN), Suzanne Briet (1894-1989) made important theoretical, organizational, and institutional contributions to the documentation movement in France. This paper attempts to place her documentation work within the context of the far-reaching reform of French libraries, with special attention to the transformation of the BN. Like her colleagues in special libraries, Briet embraced modernity and science. However, because of her strong orientation toward humanistic scholarship, she viewed documentation service and bibliographic orientation as an enhancement rather than a rejection of the scholarly traditions of the national library. This paper will focus on her efforts to integrate the innovative ideas of the documentation movement into the practice of librarianship at the Bibliothèque Nationale.”
(Mary Niles Maack)
The origins of the internet in Europe (1895-2013): Collecting, indexing & sharing knowledge
Have I been waiting for this one.
“Brussels, Belgium, Europe, 1895: two men shared a dream of ‘indexing and classifying the world’s information’. Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine’s work foreshadowed the network of knowledge that a century later became the Internet with its search engines! Otlet and La Fontaine aimed to preserve peace by assembling knowledge and making it accessible to the entire world. They built an international documentation center called Mundaneum. They invented the modern library Universal Decimal Classification system. La Fontaine won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1913. By 1935, their Mundaneum grew to a staggering 16 million cards covering subjects ranging from the history of hunting dogs to finance! World War II and the death of both founders slowed down the project. Although many Mundaneum archives were stored away, some even in the Brussels subway, volunteers kept the dream alive. The French community government of Belgium brought most of the archives to a beautiful Art Deco building in the heart of Mons near Brussels.”
(Google Cultural Institute)
Honoring and supporting Belgian Internet pioneers
Justice will be done to those with universal ideas and visions.
“Decades before the creation of the World Wide Web, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine envisaged a paper archival system of the world’s information. They built a giant international documentation centre called Mundaneum, with the goal of preserving peace by assembling knowledge and making it accessible to the entire world. For us at Google, this mission sounds familiar.”
(Google | Official blog)
Networked Knowledge, Decades Before Google
Great reference article to pass around. The more Otlet, the better.
“He dreamed of a ‘mechanical, collective brain’ and his complex system for indexing information could be considered an analog version of Google. Belgian lawyer and librarian Paul Otlet died in 1944, poor and disillusioned. But his work is now being looked at in a whole new light.”
(Meike Laaff ~ Der Spiegel)