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- Paul Otlet was a Belgian, *1868, died 1944, who perfected the Dewey Classification system as "the Universal Decimal Classification", in his lifetime alone totalling 17 million index cards of human knowledge.
Seeing the complexity of human knowledge as an almost eternal subdivision of topics, he believed that accessibility to all knowledge for all contained it itself the road to peace for all of humankind. Most of his professional life he harbored the dream of a Universal City, a focus for "harmonious, pacifist and progressive civilization", which he shared with an American artist, Hendrik Christian Andersen.
When Andersen in the mid-30's turned to the Italian dictator Mussolini for support to build the city, Otlet turned away in disgust, but soon found renewed support in the great architect Le Corbusier, who drew up plans and assisted him to until the very end.
Paul Otlet can be said to be among the chief architects behind the League of Nations (founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War), a unifying body of peace making among all nations, but even so his dreams of a permanent city of peace workers - politicians, intellectuals, scientist and artists working towards the abolition of war - was never recognized for real. And if it wasn't enough that two world wars brought whole societies to their knees, and with them the real-world effects of his firm belief in pacifism; petty thinking in his own nation also destroyed his library and collections of art and science. But even so his ideas of connecting all knowledge and making it accessible in images, audio and instant connections to anyone, anywhere, remained in the world. His is basically the modern version of the story of the difficult birth of the interconnectednes, which we today call "the Internet".
A beautiful documentary, "The Man Who Wanted To Classify The World", was created by Francoise Levie for release by Sofidoc Productions in 2002, following almost 1 year of opening and cataloguing the remains of his personal papers: 100 mice infested crates and boxes documenting every little thing in a life full of dreams, theory, planning, and action. Paul Otlet threw nothing away. Even a torn up letter was saved in a separate envelope. But out of the boxes grew a full life, where almost no endeavour went awry:
He had found his voice and conviction in pacifism - springing from the innate need to classify and put in order everything, which mankind discovered, developed and thought - and this certainty carried him through out the whole of his life. Not a Ghandi, not a Martin Luther King working among his people, but an intellectual working from a dream so large that one would almost call it a pipe dream, if not for his total conviction: That peace among all nations was possible, if only there was a common focus on peace for all to see and believe in.
Paul Otlet died in the winter of 1944.
His decimal classification system, the UDC, is still in use today.