Coordinates: 50°27′27.67″N 3°57′19.62″E / 50.4576861°N 3.9554500°E / 50.4576861; 3.9554500

Entrance of the Mundaneum (Mons, Belgium).
Drawers of the Mundaneum's Universal Bibliographical System bibliographic index cards,

The Mundaneum is a non profit organisation based in Mons, Belgium that runs an exhibition space, website and archive which celebrate the legacy of the original Mundaneum established by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine in the early twentieth century.[1]


The Mundaneum was originally created in 1910, following an initiative begun in 1895 by Belgian lawyers Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine,[2] as part of their work on documentation science. It 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 was the origin of the Union of International Associations (UIA).

The Mundaneum has been identified as a milestone in the history of data collection and management,[3] and (somewhat more tenuously) as a precursor to the internet.[4]

Otlet regarded the project as the centrepiece 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 systematic knowledge projects such as Wikipedia and WolframAlpha) 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.

An English pamphlet published in 1914 described it:

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 standardised 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).[5]

The Mundaneum was originally housed at the Palais du Cinquantenaire in Brussels (Belgium). 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 and architect Karel Teige.

In 1933, with Otlet's agreement, Otto Neurath founded the Mundaneum Institute as a branch in The Hague in 1933,[6] which became central to his activities when he moved to the Netherlands as a refugee following the defeat of the Austrian Social Democratic Party in the Austrian Civil War. In 1936 the Mundaneum Institute launched the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science.[7]

When Nazi Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, the Mundaneum was replaced with an exhibit of Third Reich art, and some material was lost.[2]

The Mundaneum was reconstituted in a large but decrepit building in Leopold Park. It remained there until it was forced to move again in 1972.

The Mundaneum has since been relocated to a converted 1930s department store in Mons (Wallonia), where the existing museum opened in 1998.[2]

See also



  1. "Mundaneum Exhibition Space". Mundaneum. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 Eric Pfanner (March 12, 2012). "Google to Announce Venture With Belgian Museum". New York Times.
  3. "Computable knowledge History", Alpha, Wolfram
  4. Wright, Alex (2014-07-10). Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age. Oxford ; New York: OUP USA. pp. 8–15. ISBN 9780199931415.
  5. Rayward, W Boyd (1994), "Visions of Xanadu: Paul Otlet (1868–1944) and Hypertext", Jasis, 45, pp. 235–50.
  6. Hegselmann, Rainer (1987). "Introduction". Unified Science. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.
  7. Neurath, Otto (1983). "An International Encyclopedia of Unified Science (1936)". In Cohen, Robert S.; Neurath, Marie. Otto Neurath: Philosophical papers 1913-1946. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company. p. 139.

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