The Mundaneum in America : An archives odyssey from Brussels to Stanford (USA) !

New unpublished archives stored in the prestigious library of Stanford University (California, USA) have lately drawn the attention of the Mundaneum archivists… The Hoover Institution houses, as we discovered, archives of the « Union of International  Associations » created by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine, supplementing those preserved at the Mundaneum in Mons !

Inauguration of the UIA library in 1907 - Otlet, La Fontaine and baron Descamps attendBelgian scholar Christophe Verbruggen (Universiteit Gent), expert in digital humanities and coordinator of the plateform TIC Belgium in which the Mundaneum takes part, discovered these so far unknown documents during his research in Stanford. These literary and iconographic testimonies shed a new light on the historical heritage of the Mundaneum and its travels during the Second World War.  They come mainly from the Union of International Associations , founded in 1907 in Brussels par Otlet and La Fontaine.

How did these archives land in a foreign library, namely Stanford ? It could have remained a mystery without the works of researcher Madeleine Herren[1] (Director of the European Institute at Basel University, CH).  Part of the answer can also be found in the introduction to Cataloging the world, Amercian journalist Alex Wright’s book on Otlet.

Madeleine Herren tells us how the Deutsche Kongress-Zentrale  (DKZ), whose mission it was to collect documents consficated all over Europe by the 3rd Reich, took archives from Brussels and Paris to GDocument found in Stanford about the Musée Internationalermany during the Second World War. Over 50 tons of files and books were then moved to and stored in Berlin in 1941, in the headquarters of the DKZ library. By October 1943, the DKZ disapeared and we lose the trail of these archives until the end of the war, when they appear in records of the US Army.

As for the documents themselves, they reappear in 1947 thanks to a European mission lead by the Americans and to which the Hoover Insitution of Stanford University is associated.  The Insitution inherits this lot about war, revolution and peace.

These archives relevant to the Mundaneum were found thanks to the Online archive of California project, a digital library regrouping digitized materials from all the libraries of the University of California. A simple query of the keywords « la fontaine » or « otlet » proves that part of the Mundaneum founders’ heritage is preserved in California, in Stanford!

This new development in the life of the Mundaneum underlines once more the international character of the archives preserved in Mons and demonstrates the vivacity of the academic network around the archives centre.

[1] Herren Madeleine, “Outwardly . . . an Innocuous Conference Authority’: National Socialism and the Logistics of International Information Management”, in “German History”, vol. 20, no. 1, trans. from German by Richard Deveson, 2002, pp. 67-92.