House, City, World, Nation, Globe

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Natacha Roussel

This timeline starts in Brussels and is an attempt to situate some of the events in the life, death and revival of the Mundaneum in a broader context, and in relation to both local and international events. By connecting several geographic locations at different scales, it is hopefully provoking cqrrelations in time and space that could help us formulate questions about the ways local events repeatedly mirror and recompose global situations. Hopefully, it can also help to see which elements in the context of existence of the Mundaneum are different from the current situation of our information economy.

The ambitious project of the Mundaneum was imagined by Paul Otlet with support of Henri La Fontaine at the end of the 19th century, at that time colonialism was at its heights, bringing large commercial incomes to occidental countries, and creating a sense of security that made everything seem possible; in the opinion of many intellectuals, it felt the intellectual and material benefits of rational thinking could universally become the source of all goods. The first tensions between colonial/commercial powers were only starting to manifest themselves, as conflict araised for the defense of commercial interests during Fashoda and also the Boers war. However, the sense of strenght of the colonial powers was quickly tempered by the war that was about to start in modern European society.

In this context it is important to emphasize that Henri La Fontaine's thinking, while constantly energized by Paul Otlet's encompassing view of classification systems and standards, strongly associates the Mundaneum project with an ideal of world peace. This was a conscious process of thought; it took place in a framework that believed this universal archive of all knowledge, represented a resource for the promotion of education towards the development of better social relations; however, while not directly aware of economical and colonial issues Otlet and La Fontaine ideals were nevertheless fed by the wealth of the epoch. It also clearly appears that as the project was embedded in the international and "politico-economical" context of its time, the Mundaneum was also linked by many aspects to a larger movement that engaged civil society towards a protostructure of networked society, Henri La Fontaine affirmed his objective to contribute to an international network. His intervention helped to root the process of archive collection in a larger network of associations and regulatory structures. Firstly the Mundaneum archives were established with an intention, and a major effort was done to include documents that referred to often neglected topics, or that could be considered as alternative thinking, such as the well known archives of the feminist movement in Belgium, but also information on anarchism and pacifism. However, in line with the general sense of strength due to growing wealth in Europe at the turn of the century, the Mundaneum project seemed to be always in extension. Otlet's view of archives and organization extended to all domains and became overwhelming, and La Fontaine asserted that general peace could be achieved through social development by the means of education, and access to knowledge. Their common view was nurtured by an acute perception of their epoch, they observed and often contributed to most of the major evolutions in the then ongoing organization of civil society.

The ever ambitious process of the Mundaneum archives took place in the context of the growing internationalization of society, at the end of the 19th century, while at the same time the social gap was increasing due to the booming of industrial society. This issue was addressed in Brussels by the brand new discipline of sociology [1] l'"Ecole de Bruxelles" to which Otlet and La Fontaine took part was very early in the process of trying to formulate a legal discourse that could help to address social inequalities, and eventually think regulations that could help to "re-engineer" social organization. Furthermore, the internationalization of finances and relations that started to take place at the beginning of XXth century did not only concern industrial society, it also acted as a motivation to structure social and political networks, among other things via political negotiations and the setting up of civil society organizations. Several broad structures that were dedicated to the regulation of international relations were created at the same time as the worldwide spreading of an industrial economy, they aimed to formulate a world view that would be based on international agreements rather than left to individual and commercial initiatives. Otlet and Lafontaine spent a large part of their lives on attempts to formulate a mondial society. While La Fontaine clearly supported the organization of international networks of civil society organizations, Otlet, according to Benoit Friedman, is the first person to use the term Mondialisation in French far ahead of his time in advocating what would become after World War 2, an important movement that concerned a number of instances who claimed to work for the development of an international regulatory system. Otlet also mentions that this "Mondial" process is directly related to the necessity of a new repartition and the regulation of natural goods (understand diamonds and gold...), he says: « Un droit nouveau doit remplacer alors le droit ancien pour préparer et organiser une nouvelle répartition. La “question sociale” a posé le problème à l’intérieur ; “la question internationale” pose le même problème à l’extérieur entre peuples. Notre époque a poursuivi une certaine socialisation de biens. […] Il s’agit, si l’on peut employer cette expression, de socialiser le droit international, comme on a socialisé le droit privé, et de prendre à l’égard des richesses naturelles des mesures de “mondialisation”. » [2]. The two approaches of La Fontaine and Otlet might already bear certain differences, as one emphasizes an organization based on local civil society structures, which implies direct participation, while the other focuses more on management and global organization managed by a regulatory framework. It seems interesting to take a look at these early concepts that were participating to a larger movement called "the first mondialisation", and understand its difference with actual globalization, that also involves private and public instances and different inftrastructures.

Indeed, Otlet and Lafontaine's project took place in an era of international agreements over communication networks. It appears that civil society organizations such as l'"Union international des associations", acted as networks of information-sharing setting up modalities of exchange to the general benefit of civil society. Furthermore, the global project of the Mundaneum, as we know also involved the conception of a technical infrasture. The communication systems associated with the Mundaneum were conceived in between the two World Wars. Some of them such as the Mondothèque were imagined as prospective possibilities, but others were already implemented at the time and formed the basis of an international communication network, consisting of postal services and telegraph networks. It was also the epoch of international agreements between countries, structuring and normalizing international life; some of these structures still form the basis of our actual globalized organization, but they are all challenged by private capitalist structures. In the same way as previously, it could be interesting to understand similarities and differences between the actual development of the Mundaneum project and the actual knowledge economy?

1934 The Mundaneum is closed after a governmental decision. A part of the archives are moved Rue Fétis 44, Brussels to the house of Paul Otlet MOVE HOUSE
1992 Creation of the Internet Society, an American association with international vocation. STANDARD WORLD
1960's Les Amis du Palais Mondial organize different events to celebrate the memory of Paul Otlet. EVENT HOUSE
1914 The Palais Mondial sets up at Parc du Cinquantenaire 11. The opening is delayed due to the upcoming WORLD War I. MOVE CITY
1916 Paul Otlet coins the term "Mondialisation" in Les Problèmes internationaux et la Guerre, les conditions et les facteurs de la vie internationale, Genève/Paris, Kundig/Rousseau, p. 76 PUBLICATION CITY
1920 Foundation of the League of Nations at the Paris peace conference. EVENT WORLD
1920 Opening of the Palais Mondial in Parc du Cinquantenaire. EVENT CITY
1924 Foire du caoutchouc (Rubber fair) in the Palais Mondial. Some collections will be moved to make space for the event. MOVE CITY
1941 Some files from the Mundaneum collections concerning international associations, are transferred to Germany. They are assumed to have propaganda value. MOVE WORLD
1934 Publication of Otlet's book Traité de documentation. PUBLICATION WORLD
1891 Henri Lafontaine publishes an essay Pour une bibliographie de la paix. PUBLICATION NATION
1895 2-4 September First Conférence de Bibliographie at which it is decided to create l'Institut International de Bibliographie (IIB). ASSOCIATION CITY
1893 Otlet and Lafontaine start together l'Office International de Bibliologie Sociologique (OIBS). ASSOCIATION CITY
1910 May Official Creation of the International union of associations (IUA). In 1914, it federates 230 organizations, a little more than half the existing ones. The IUA promotes internationalist aspirations and desire for peace that will lead in 1920 to the creation of the Société des Nations. ASSOCIATION WORLD
1907 June Otlet and Lafontaine organize a Central Office for International Associations that will become the International Union of Associations (IUA) at the first Congrès mondial des associations internationales in Brussels in May 1910. ASSOCIATION CITY
1903 Creation of the international Women's suffrage alliance (IWSA) that will later become the International Alliance of Women. ASSOCIATION WORLD
1910 25-27 August Le Congrès International de Bibliographie et de Documentation deals both with issues of international cooperation between non-governmental organizations and the structure of universal documentation. ASSOCIATION WORLD
1911 More than 600 people and institutions are listed as IIB members or refer to their methods, specifically the UDC. ASSOCIATION WORLD
1914 Germany declares war to France and invades Belgium. EVENT WORLD
1919 June 28 The Traité de Versailles marks the end of World War I. EVENT WORLD
1924 Creation (within the IIB), of the Central Classification Commission focusing on the development of the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC). ASSOCIATION NATION
1931 The IIB becomes the International Institute of documentation (IID) and in 1938 is named International Fédération of documentation (IDF). ASSOCIATION WORLD
1939 September Invasion of Poland by Germany, start of World War II. EVENT WORLD
1908 July Congrès bibliographique international in Brussels. EVENT CITY
1900 Congrès bibliographique international in Paris. EVENT WORLD
1913 Henri Lafontaine is awarded the Nobel Price for Peace. EVENT WORLD
1916 Lafontaine publishes The great solution: magnissima charta while in exile in the United States. PUBLICATION WORLD
1882 Triple Alliance, renewed in 1902. EVENT WORLD
1904 Entente cordiale between France and England over the colonies (what was agreed upon?). EVENT WORLD
1890's First colonial wars (Fachoda, Boers ...). EVENT WORLD
1889 Henri Lafontaine creates La Société Belge de l'arbitrage et de la paix. EVENT NATION
1944 Death of Paul Otlet. He is buried in Etterbeek cemetery. EVENT CITY
1993 Elio Di Rupo organises the transport of the Mundaneum archives from Brussels to 76 rue de Nimy in Mons. MOVE NATION
1890 Henri Lafontaine meets Paul Otlet. PERSON CITY
1894 Henri Lafontaine is elected senator of the province of Hainaut, and later senator of the province of Liège-Brabant. EVENT NATION
1907 Henri Lafontaine is elected president of the Bureau international de la paix that he previously initiated. PERSON NATION
1891 Franco-Russian entente, preliminary to the Triple entente that will be signed in 1907. EVENT WORLD
1870 Franco-Prussian war. EVENT WORLD
1905 First Moroccan crisis. EVENT WORLD
1874 ONU creates the General Postal Union [3] and aims to federate international postal distribution. STANDARD WORLD
1875 General Conference on Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France. STANDARD WORLD
1865 The International Union of telegraph, the future International Telecomunication Union (UTI) sets up. STANDARD WORLD
1947 The International Telecomunication Union (UTI) is attached to the UN. STANDARD GLOBE
1963 American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) developed. STANDARD GLOBE
1966 The ARPANET project is initiated. ASSOCIATION NATION
1974 Telenet, the first public version of the Internet founded. STANDARD WORLD
2012 Failure of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) to reach an international agreement on Internet regulation. STANDARD GLOBE

Additional timelines

  2. Paul Otlet, 1916, Les Problèmes internationaux et la Guerre, les conditions et les facteurs de la vie internationale, Genève/Paris, Kundig/Rousseau, p. 76.

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