BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Rayward, W. Boyd. (Ed.). Information beyond borders: international cultural and intellectual exchange in the Belle Époque Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014. xviii, 318 p. ISBN 978-1-4094-4225-7. £58.50
The illustration on the cover of this book reproduces the map of the World and its Classification (Le Monde et sa Classification) made by Paul Otlet and serving as an Atlas for his Encyclopeadia Universalis. The internal circumference of the whole wheel is divided into ten parts in accordance with the main divisions of the Universal Decimal Classification. But the content of the book itself does not focus on the classification. If we interpret the image as representing the contents of the volume it would refer more to the complexity of the ideas and phenomena explored in the chapters rather than to a relatively simple tool of knowledge organization.
The book is a collection of papers from the colloquium "Transcending boundaries in the period of the Belle Époque: organizing knowledge, mobilising networks and effecting social change" that took part in the Mundaneum, Mons, Belgium in May, 2010. The authors of the papers are renowned researchers of media, communication, information, social history and the history of architecture. Their papers reflect their varied interests that, nevertheless, could be generalized under the topic of idea exchange in the world of Belle Époque. This would not be entirely correct, as the essays also deal with many factors contributing to the exchange of ideas and information. It is highly complex and intellectual book that may capture attention of different scholars in theory of science, scholarly communication, history of ideas, classification and many other disciplines. Though I doubt if many beyond the historians of the period will read it from cover to cover because of the heterogeneity of addressed issues.
I have read all the contributions to the volume (though with varying level of interest and attention) when there was a some time to spare from more mundane worries with educational and administration matters. The impression that the book has left with me is coloured by my own knowledge and areas of interest. The first topic that has caught my attention is the development of ideas in the sphere of media (organization and technology) represented by Hartmann in the chapter on Kapp's Philosophy of Technology; Barth in the chapter on Global News Agencies; Surman writing about changes in scientific communication in Central Europe (a region close to my heart); Verbruggen and Carlier exploring the network (organizations, periodicals, and individuals) created by Rudolf Broda within his Institut International pour la Diffusion des Experiences Sociales; Vossoughian in the chapter on standardization of the paper formats; Muddiman investigating the role of Commercial Museums; and Black analysing the rise of the first staff magazines.
Another topic that I was following with interest relates to the issue of language in scientific communication. Partly, this issue was covered by Surman as the empires of the Central Europe were changing their language and educational policies at the time to supress the local ethnic and national groups. But the chapters by Krajewski and de Kloe address the need, creation, and failure in the sphere of universal languages, thus providing an interesting extension to a linguistic aspect of scientific and scholarly communication. It has lost a particular angle of a specially created language at present, but new linguistic controvercies have emerged when English became the lingua franca in science and even humanities.
The competitive power relationships between the continets, states, nations, institutions, and even persons emerges as a red thread running throughout the whole book, whether one reads about the colonial policies of Belgium, Germany, and Russia; information acquisition in Australia (by Gaunt); the congresses of Orientalists' (by Servais); the establishment of international bodies in sociology (by van Acker); organization of great international exhibitions (by Rayward); Fried's Scientific Pacifism (by Laqua); or Eijkman's plans for a World Capital (by Somsen).
Only two chapters address the issues of knowledge organization directly. Van den Heuvel explores the impact of various individuals and institutions on the development and spread of the Universal Decimal Classification in 1905-1935. Carrol and Reynolds tell a fascinating story of a conflict over introduction of the Dewey Decimal Classification in Melbourn Public Library. Nevertheless, the main forces that drove the creation of these classification - the development of industry, technology and science, the rise of the capitalist society, and the controversy between a world of inter-dependencies and its entities striving for more power, influence and wealth, are present in each of the texts published in this volume.