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The Traite

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Traité de documentation was written by Paul Otlet in 1934. It coincided almost exactly at the same time with the closure of the Mundaneum. Traité is a manifesto crystallizing 40 years’ worth of writing and research into the possibilities of networked information structures.

Otlet biographer Boyd Rayward describes the Traité as ”perhaps the first systematic, modern discussion of general problems of organising information.”

Using the UDC as a backdrop, the Traité posited a universal “law of organization” declaring that no document could be properly understood by itself, but that its meaning becomes clarified through its influence on other documents, and vice versa. “[A]ll bibliological creation,” he said, “no matter how original and how powerful, implies redistribution, combination and new amalgamations.”

While that sentiment may sound postmodernist in spirit, Otlet was no semiotician; rather, he simply believed that documents could best be understood as three-dimensional, with the third dimension being their social context: their relationship to place, time, language, other readers, writers and topics. Otlet believed in the possibility of empirical truth, or what he called “facticity”—a property that emerged over time, through the ongoing collaboration between readers and writers. In Otlet’s world, each user would leave an imprint, a trail, which would then become part of the explicit history of each document.

Otlet’s vision suggests an intellectual cosmos illuminated both by objective classification and by the direct influence of readers and writers: a system simultaneously ordered and self-organizing, and endlessly re-configurable by the individual reader or writer.[1]

Legacy "trunk"
Preceded by
The Traite Followed by
Legacy "trunk"
Influenced by
The Traite Influenced
Reactive Engine, NLS and Sketchpad
RIA Branch
Influenced by
The Traite Influenced

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