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Union of International Associations -- Virtual Organization: Paul Otlets 100-year hypertext conundrum ?


Union of International Associations -- Virtual Organization
Constraints of the past
Pressures of the present
Clues for the future
Annex: Views of historians on Paul Otlet

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This document assembles summaries of a number of other documents, available on the web [see below], concerning the 'secret history' of hypertext -- the basis for what is now the World Wide Web. It appears from these recent studies by historians of information science that the official history of hyertext has yet to come to terms with the work of a precursor, Paul Otlet. However even these studies, which focus on Otlet's vast bibliographic enterprises and his Universal Decimal Classification, fail to recognize a possible further twist to the story.

Otlet was indeed co-founder (with Nobel Prize laureate Henri La Fontaine) in 1895 of the International Office of Bibliography -- whose work gave rise to current interest in Otlet's prophetic role in framing insight into the possibilities of hypertext. In 1938, the Office had become the Internationational Federation for Documentation (FID), but much of the documentation collected by Otlet was held by another institution, the Mundaneum. Both bodies continue to exist.

What historians have not recognized, in this context, is that Otlet and La Fontaine co-founded another body in 1910, namely the Union of International Associations (UIA). Based in Brussels, this has been a continuing source of international reference materials on 'international associations', notably over the past 50-years since the deaths of its founders. The question is whether this initiative of the founders was totally dissociated from that on which hypertext historians have only recently focused.