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The Shape of Knowledge: The Mundaneum by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine

Mankind is at a turning point in its history. The mass of data acquired is astounding. We need new instruments to simplify it, to condense it, or intelligence will never be able to overcome the difficulties imposed upon it or achieve the progress that it foresees and to which it aspires. Paul Otlet, Treaties on Documentation, 1934

Before the advent of information technology and of the World Wide Web, a project synthesized at once the need to concentrate all human knowledge in a single, accessible place, and the capacity of providing an efficient system to remotely and effectively retrieve all of this information. This project was the Mundaneum.

Conceived by two Belgian jurists, Paul Otlet (1868-1944), father of modern documentation and indexing techniques, and Henri La Fontaine (1854-1943), Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1910, the Mundaneum is considered as a precursor of network-based knowledge systems and of the Internet itself.

The Charterhouse of Padua, a Forgotten Place


The Charterhouse of Padua, a Forgotten Place

Not far from Padua, along the Brenta river bank, stands an architectural complex that, even just by virtue of its bulk, exerts a gravitational pull on those who happen to pass by it, unconcerned about the private property signs affixed all around. Vegetation intertwines together with its capitals, covering its long walls and invading its passages barred by big, rusty padlocks. The Charterhouse of Padua was built starting from the 16th century under the guidance of architect Andrea Moroni, who had already been the master builder of the basilica of Santa Giustina. Upon his death, the complex was finished by Andrea della Valle. The calm rhythm of its porticoes evokes the vanished grandeur of this place, that now attends silent and proud to the passage of time. In its harmonious shapes, however, it still echoes the spirit that leads the construction of the vast complex today in ruins.

Notre Dame

Ernest Fiene, Notre Dame, 1929, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Baum in memory of Edith Gregor Halpert, 1971.320

On April 15, 2019, the world watched as the Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire, destroying much of one of the most important buildings in the world. Parisians came out in support of their beloved cathedral, while others began to reflect on the importance of the cathedral in their lives. At SAAM, we started looking at the works in our collection that depicted Notre Dame, and asked Senior Curator Eleanor Harvey, to give us some background on why the cathedral has been beloved by American artists for years.

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