Brussels Museum - The Mundaneum: The First Internet
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Brussels Museum - The Mundaneum: The First Internet

As far back as 1910 Paul Otlet had the idea for a complex network of interlinking sources of all of human knowledge. Although without the modern technology we have today he couldn't possible of invented the Internet, his idea was like the no-tech version. He even coined a few familiar phrases used today like network, browse, links, collective brain and search engine,.Visitors to Brussels, Belgium can visit the Mundanium Museum to see artifacts from his original resource center which had over six million entries.


Although the invention of the Internet is credited to Anglo-American inventers in the 1980s as early as 1910 a little known genius named Paul Otlet had already developed a blueprint to an almost identical concept. Otlet envisioned an international network of "electric telescopes" interlinking documents, audio, photographs and files allowing people to "browse" through a complete collection of human knowledge. He even saw people sending messages to each other over this network and used that very word – reseau or network. Without the modern technology available today Otlet envisioned index cards and telegraph machines.

Otlet commenced his schooling at the age of 12 and once exposed to the world of books he never left it. Later he befriended Henri La Fontaine, a future Nobel Prize winner and together they formulated the notion of this network bibliography. They cataloged and cross-referenced millions of books, magazines, pamphlets and journals creating an index system with over 12 million entries. Under the patronage of the government Otlet opened the "City of Knowledge" or Mundaneum with a staff which served as a resource center and research service for over 1,500 queries which arrived by mail and telegraph each year. You could say it was a human search engine. The paper work was colossal, confusing and hard to cope with which led Otlet to write a book called "monde" in 1934 where he outlined his idea for a paperless, "mechanical collective brain" accessed through a telecommunications network. His brilliant plans were cut short by World War II and lack of government support. Surprisingly the mass of data he had collected remained virtually untouched except by cobwebs and only decades later did the Mundaneum – a museum dedicated to this early form of the Internet reopen.

In the museum today you can see the original index system, catalog draws, books, newspapers and artifacts used in the running of this massive search engine. Learn about the original project, the knowledge at that time and the way the system was run. You can see the 6km of documents and artifacts belonging to the original inventors.

Guided tours for groups are recommended for adults only and need to be booked two weeks in advance. It is also possible to visit by yourself without a group, or as they call it on the website make an "autonomous" visit. Autonomous visits must be booked a week in advance on their website, by phone or by the mail address given above. The guides are in several languages.

Website: Mundaneum Museum


Archive center of the French Community of Wallonia-Brussels and temporary Exhibition Space

76 Rue Nimy

Mons, Belgium

GPS: 50°27'27.625'N, 3°57'19.538'E

Tel: Priscilla Genicot at 065/39.54.80

Open Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 1pm to 5pm and on weekends from 1pm to 6pm, the museum is closed on Mondays.

Price: For guided tours of up to 20 people 30€ per person. For autonomous visits individual admission is 5€ for adults and 3€ for students and seniors. The admission includes use of a touch pad and visitor guide.


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