Thursday, February 21, 2013 | 9:08 AM
It’s nice to watch a seed bloom into a radiant flower. Last spring, we announced a partnership with the Belgian institution called Mundaneum. Our initial ambitions were modest - to support lectures and exhibitions on the history of the Internet. The lectures and exhibitions proved so popular - one, at our other partner, the University of Ghent, attracted 900 people - that today we are delighted to announce a major expansion of our joint work.
The Mundaneum is becoming Belgium’s first partner with Google’s Cultural Institute. Our Paris-based Cultural Insitute has embarked on an adventure to revolutionize the way archives are curated and presented. It allows partners to wipe the dust off their documents, images and videos and tell the story that brings them to life in exciting new online exhibitions. Previous partners range from the Imperial War Museum to the Nelson Mandela foundation.
The Mundaneum team has curated two new online exhibitions consisting of documents, photos and videos using the Cultural Institute’s innovative digital curation tool. One tells the story of Mundaneum founders Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine’s quest to organise the world’s information on paper cards in the pre-digital age. The second celebrates the centenary of La Fontaine’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize. Both exhibition home pages are pictured below. They are available in English and French, and will soon be published in Dutch.
The Mundaneum’s home region is also home to a Google data centers, located in the southern Belgian village of St. Ghislain. In many ways, the modern data center has replaced paper cards; it provides the electric and electronic backbone for the modern Internet. This coincidence presents us with a fortuitous opportunity for community relations. In coming weeks, the Mundaneum will launch of series of presentations and exhibitions about Google Data Centers. And since we are hiring at the data center, the Mundaneum will host a jobs day, explaining what skills are needed to work at a data center. Take a look at some images from our St. Ghislain data center.
In 2015, Mons has been named a European capital of culture. We will work with Mundaneum to support this exciting project. Google technologies will be deployed to promote Mons’s historic architectural legacy - as well as its exciting modern cultural initiatives.
At the same time, we hope to spread recognition of the Mundaneum’s exciting adventure outside of Belgium. All too often, Europeans tend to think of the invention of the modern Internet as an American monopoly. In fact, Europeans played a key role. Otlet and LaFontaine created its intellectual roots; Brit Alan Turing of cryptology fame imagined much of its early hardware, while a Belgian, Robert Caillau, and another Brit, Tim Berners-Lee, built the World Wide Web.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised by the success of our partnership. A natural affinity exists between Google’s modern project of making the world’s information accessble and the Mundaneum project of two early 20th century Belgians. Otlet and La Fontaine imagined organizing all the world’s information - on paper cards. While their dream was discarded, the Internet brought it back to reality and it's little wonder that many now describe the Mundaneum as “the paper Google.” Together, we are showing the way to marry our paper past with our digital future.