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The Mundaneum was created in 1910 out of the initiative of two Belgian lawyers. Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine aimed to gather together all the world's knowledge and classify it according to a system they developed called the Universal Decimal Classification. Otlet and La Fontaine organized an International Conference of International Associations which caused the creation of the Union of International Associations (UIA).

Otlet regarded the project as the centerpiece of a new 'world city' - a centrepiece which eventually became an archive with more than 12 million index cards and documents. Some consider it a forerunner of the internet (or, perhaps more appropriately, of Wikipedia) and Otlet himself had dreams that one day, somehow, all the information he collected could be accessed by people from the comfort of their own homes.

The Mundaneum was originally housed at the Palais du Cinquantenaire in Brussels (Belgium). The Mundaneum has since been relocated to a converted 1930s department store in Mons (Wallonia).

An English pamphlet published in 1914 contains this description:

The International Centre organises collections of world-wide importance. These collections are the International Museum, the International Library, the International Bibliographic Catalogue and the Universal Documentary Archives. These collections are conceived as parts of one universal body of documentation, as an encyclopedic survey of human knowledge, as an enormous intellectual warehouse of books, documents, catalogues and scientific objects. Established according to standardized methods, they are formed by assembling cooperative everything that the participating associations may gather or classify. Closely consolidated and coordinated in all of their parts and enriched by duplicates of all private works wherever undertaken, these collections will tend progressively to constitute a permanent and complete representation of the entire world. (Union of International Associations, 1914, p. 116).[1]

Otlet commissioned architect Le Corbusier to design a Mundaneum project to be built in Geneva, Switzerland in 1929. Although never built, the project triggered The Mundaneum Affair, a theoretical argument between Corbusier and Czech critic Karel Teige.


See also



  1. W. Boyd Rayward Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868-1944) and Hypertext JASIS 45 (1994):235-250

A Documentary film about Paul Otlet and the Mundaneum is available online.

Additional sources

External links

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