• Birth of Henri La Fontaine

    Born into an upper class family, Henri La Fontaine (1854-1943) was a lawyer who specialized in international law. This pacifist promoted his work as a means to bring peace to the world through Belgian and international organizations, particularly through the International Peace Bureau that he would head from 1907. In 1913, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his activities. He took part in the feminist debates and participated in the creation of the Belgian League for the Rights of Women in 1892. Member of the Belgian Labour Party from its creation, he was one of Belgian’s first socialist senators in 1894. Passionate about bibliography, he founded the International Office of Bibliography with Paul Otlet in 1895.
  • Birth of Paul Otlet

    Paul Otlet (1868-1944) founded the International Office of Bibliography with Henri La Fontaine in 1895. He rapidly broadened his activities beyond bibliography and accomplished an original work in such diversified areas as bibliography, photography, schematics, encyclopaedia or documentation (dematerialization). This work, along with his renowned Traité de documentation (1934) has bestowed upon him the title of "father of modern documentation". Passionate about new innovations, he anticipated the coming of the Internet before the Second World War. Animated by pacifist and utopian ideals, he strived to build an ideal society and designed, along with such figureheads as Le Corbusier, a project for a World City.
  • Henri La Fontaine and Paul Otlet meet in Edmond Picard’s office

    Paul Otlet was at this time an intern in the offices of the renowned lawyer and writer Edmond Picard, for whom Henri La Fontaine worked as a secretary. Together, they would eventually work on the draft of case law book Les Pandectes belges and discover a common interest for bibliography.
  • Publication of the first bibliographic works

    "Sommaire périodique des revues de droit" (Paul Otlet) and "Essai de bibliographie de la paix" (Henri La Fontaine)
  • International Office of Sociological Bibliography

    This office was created with the support of the Belgian government and under the auspices of the Société d’études sociales et politiques (Society for social and political studies) and of the Institut des sciences sociales (Institute for social sciences). Its aim consisted of collecting and filing all social science information on every support.
  • Creation of the International Office of Bibliography

    The first International Conference of Bibliography was held in Brussels and lead to the creation of the International Office of Bibliography, for which Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine will go on to develop the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC).
  • Paris World’s fair

    The Universal Bibliographic Repertory was presented at the Paris world fair where it received a prize.
  • Publication of the first complete edition of the UDC

    The first complete edition of the Universal Decimal Classification was published in the Manuel du Répertoire bibliographique universel. The UDC is a universal language developed by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine based on the Decimal Classification of American librarian Melvil Dewey, and consists in filing publication based on a number. This system underwent several developments and has been adopted by a great number of libraries throughout the world.
  • Construction of the Westende seaside resort

    Paul Otlet proposed to develop tourism in the family estate hunting grounds in Westende. Along with architect Octave Van Rysselberghe, they created a modern seaside resort inspired by the recent theory of the garden city. This interest for architecture prefigures Paul Otlet’s projects for a world city.
  • Development of the concept of documentation

    Recognizing that knowledge does not only come from books, Paul Otlet widened his range of action to other sources of information and became the ‘father’ of documentation. Several sections were created between 1905 and 1910 in the International Office of Bibilography to realise this idea of documentation encyclopaedia, including the Universal Repertory of Documentation, the International Institute of Photography or the International Newspaper Museum.
  • Invention of the microfiche

    Paul Otlet and Robert Goldschmidt invented the standardized microfiche to generate documentation. The microfiche would be used to reproduce books or periodicals and newspapers. It has been used in libraries for reproduction purposes.
  • Otlet describes the mobile telephone

    In a brochure entitled "Les aspects du livre" (The Aspects of the Book), Paul Otlet wrote: "Tomorrow, telephony will be wireless, just like telegraphy. Who can stop us from believing this? We shall witness a new transformation of the book […]. Everyone will carry, in his or her pocket, a tiny little handset that will be tuned with the turn of a screw to the wavelength adopted by each emitting centre."
  • Creation of Central Office of International Associations

    Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine created the Central Office of International Associations in collaboration with the International Peace Bureau. This originally private institution wished to become independent from the nations and aimed at world peace.
  • Brussels World’s Fair and creation of the International Museum

    In connection with the Brussels World’s Fair and within the framework of the World Congress of International Associations, a museum exhibition was organized to allow every international organization to present its activities. This international museum then moved to the Cinquantenaire Museum, where it gathered international collections aiming at illustrating the world and its knowledge.
  • The World City project

    The idea of a World City, an international centre for knowledge for peace, took form in the mind of Paul Otlet. This project, for which Otlet will collaborate with numerous architects, including Le Corbusier, will undergo numerous evolutions well into the thirties. The project will be envisaged in many cities, including Geneva, Brussels, or Antwerp.
  • Creation of the Union of International Associations

    On the occasion of the World Congress for International Associations, the Central Office of International Association was renamed the Union of International Associations. This institution supported the League of Nations before the First World War and was the first private right international association to receive the official recognition of a state, in this case Belgium, in 1919.
  • Creation of the League of Nations

    Henri La Fontaine was the Belgian delegate at the Versailles Peace Conference that marks the end of the First World War and was behind the creation of the League of Nations, an organization forecasting the creation of the United Nations Organization in 1945. He participated in the Assembly of the League of Nations from 1920 to 1922 and represented the Union of International Associations at the time of the debates around the creation of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (forefather of the Unesco), trying to make Brussels the official seat of the institution, with the World Palace as a central focal point.
  • Opening of the World Palace

    The First World War put on hold the setup of the International Museum du Palais du Cinquantenaire, which started in 1914. In 1920, the International Museum and institutions created by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine occupied approximately one hundred halls. The ensemble would be known as the World Palace or Mundaneum. In the twenties, Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine put up the Encyclopaedia Universalis Mundaneum, an illustrated encyclopaedia made up of paintings on mobile boards.
  • International University

    In parallel to the activities of the International Institute of Bibliography, the World Palace organized various events such as conferences and congresses. The International University, part of the International Fortnight (Quinzaine internationale), was one of these.
  • Rubber fair at the World Palace

    Some of the rooms occupied by the World Palace in the Palais du Cinquantenaire must be emptied to make place for a rubber fair. This marked the beginning of the questioning of the World Palace by the government and will eventually lead to its closure in 1934.
  • Creation of the association Les Amis du Palais Mondial

    The association Les Amis du Palais Mondial was founded in 1924. Born from the Union of International Associations, it defined itself as a ‘centre for science, documentation, education, made up of institutes and collections’ and intended to pursue the work of the World Palace. After the death of its founders, this modest association continued the activities of the Mundaneum.
  • The IIB becomes the International Institute of Documentation

    To mark the evolution of the activities of the International Institute of Bibliography towards documentation, the IIB was re-baptised International Institute of Documentation. In 1937, this institute would be re-baptised International Federation of Documentation and continue its work until 2002.
  • Publication of the Traité de documentation

    Paul Otlet published his most renowned work, the Traité de documentation: the synthesis of his considerations on matters of bibliography, documentation and the organization of knowledge. In this book, he evoked new technologies allowing for the broadcast of knowledge (videoconference systems, telephoned book…).
  • Closure of the World Palace

    The government decided to close down the World Palace. Although the collections were no longer accessible, the work of the IIB continued in the home of Paul Otlet.
  • Move of the collections

    During the Second World War, the Germans occupied the Palais du Cinquantenaire. The collections of the Mundaneum were moved to the Parc Léopold in the former building of the Institute of Anatomy Raoul Warocqué.
  • Death of Henri La Fontaine

    Henri La Fontaine died on 14 May 1943.
  • Death of Paul Otlet

    Upon the death of Paul Otlet, Georges Lorphèvre, one of his collaborators, continued the activities of the Mundaneum.
  • Move of the collections

    The collections moved from the Parc Léopold to a building on the Chaussée de Louvain. During the following years, these collections were moved on several occasions, including Avenue Rogier and Place Rogier.
  • First biography of Paul Otlet

    Warden Boyd Rayward (University of Illinois) unearthed the Mundaneum archives and published Paul Otlet’s first biography, entitled "The Universe of Information: the Work of Paul Otlet for Documentation and International Organization".
  • Dissolution of the OIB

    A Royal Decree abrogated the International Office of Bibliography. The Universal Bibliographic Repertoire, property of the State, was entrusted to the State.
  • Transfer of the collections to the French Community of Wallonia-Brussels

    Les Amis du Palais mondial transfered the collections to the French Community of Wallonia-Brussels
  • The collection arrives in Mons

    Upon an initiative of Elio Di Rupo, then Minister for Education at the French Community of Wallonia-Brussels, the collections were moved to a building on the Rue de Nimy in the heart of the city of Mons. The building is locally known as a former department store, L’Indépendance. A non-profit organization, ‘Mundaneum’, was then created to manage and valorise this heritage.
  • Opening of the museum

    The Mundaneum inaugurated a museum at the heart of the Art Deco building. The exhibition was staged and carried out by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters.
  • Google and the Mundaneum announce their collaboration

    Recognising its origins in the work carried out by Paul Otlet, Google decided to support the Mundaneum to honour the memory of Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine, pioneers of the Internet in Europe. Information has gone around the world.
  • The Mundaneum’s Universal Bibliographic Repertory in the "Memory of the world" Registry

    From 2013, the Universal Bibliographic Repertory is among the documents and documentary collections of the Unesco Memory of the World Registry. The mission of the Memory of the World Programme consists of fcilitating the conservation of the global documentary patrimony with the most appropriate techniques, helping to ensure access to this global documentary patrimony, and encouraging acknowledgement, everywhere in the world, of the existence and the benefits of the documentary patrimony.
  • The Mundaneum awarded the European Heritage Label

    European Heritage sites are milestones in the creation of today’s Europe. The network of people and institutions created by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine has contributed to the sharing and opening of new partnerships for intercultural dialogue at European and global level, based on national or regional diversity. The Mundaneum thus symbolizes peace through culture in Europe.

The origins of the Mundaneum go back to the late nineteenth century. Created by two young Belgian jurists, Paul Otlet (1868-1944), the father of documentation, and Henri La Fontaine (1854-1943), Nobel Peace Prize, the project aimed at gathering all the world’s knowledge to file it using the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) system that they had created.

An international institutions bureau dedicated to knowledge and fraternity, the Mundaneum became, in the 20th century, a universal centre of documentation. Its collections are made up of thousands of books, newspapers, journals, documents, posters, glass plates, postcards and other bibliographic cards that were put together and kept in various buildings in Brussels, including the Palais du Cinquantenaire.

A grandiose project then took shape, that of a World City for which Le Corbusier made scale models and plans. The aim of the World City was to gather, at world level, the great institutions of intellectual work: libraries, museums and universities. Ultimately, this project will never be realised. Purely utopian, the Mundaneum project soon faced the scale of the technical development of its era.

Along with the private archives of the founders, the documentary heritage kept to date contains books, newspapers, journals, documents, posters, glass plates, postcards, the Universal Bibliographic Repertory, the International Newspaper Museum and archive funds on three main themes: pacifism, anarchism and feminism.

Today, the Mundaneum is located in Mons, and since 1998, it has its own exhibition space staged by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. In this place hovering between past and present, exhibitions and conferences linked to this exceptional heritage are organised on a regular basis. Celebrations around the hundredth anniversary of Henri La Fontaine’s Nobel Peace Prize are planned in 2013 while 2012 the beginning of a collaboration with Google, which recognises its origins in the Mundaneum, a paper Google (Le Monde, 2009).