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European modernism and information society focus of U. of I. conference

Melissa Mitchell, News Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Scholars representing disciplines as diverse as architecture, urban planning, science, technology, cultural studies and library and information science – will gather May 6-8 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a conference on “European Modernism and the Information Society: Informing the Present, Understanding the Past.”

The conference, which takes place at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 501 E. Daniel St., Champaign, is sponsored by the Graduate School of Library and Information Science in association with the European Union Center, and with support from the University Library, the Office for the Associate Provost for International Affairs and the Delmas Foundation, New York.

Conference organizer W. Boyd Rayward, a professor of library and information science, said the scholars will discuss “ideas and related institution-building activities of a group of early 20th-century European thinkers – strongly modernist in outlook – about how best to create, disseminate and manage publicly available information.”
Rayward said those figures include Viennese philosopher Otto Neurath; Scottish sociologist and urban planner Patrick Geddes; the group known as the English Fabians; and novelist and journalist H.G. Wells. Conference participants also will focus on the work and ideas of lesser known, but historically important, figures such as Paul Otlet, Ferdinand van der Haeghen, Ernst Gehrcke, Franz Maria Feldhaus and Die Brücke, a German group associated with chemist Wilhelm Ostwald.

“Drawing on studies of aspects of the work of these figures, conference speakers will help to provide a new context for thinking about what it means to claim that modern information technology has fueled a revolution that has led to the creation of a wholly new kind of society,” Rayward said. Further, he stated, “the conference and events associated with it will offer a challenge to widely held assumptions about the origins and nature of today’s globalized, ‘postmodern’ information society.”

One of the more unusual aspects of the conference will be participation by Theater Adhoc, an experimental theater group from Amsterdam.

“Theater Adhoc acts as a kind of research institute,” Rayward said. “In close cooperation with several Dutch universities, it has developed theatrical events that can be characterized as live documentaries, in which the performers visualize and discuss their journeys of discovery through the world of modern ideas. They have become fascinated by the life and work of the utopian documentalist and internationalist Paul Otlet, and will present a theatrical seminar on him called ‘The Humor and Tragedy of Completeness.’ ”

Also on the conference program will be a documentary film about Otlet, “The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World: From Index Card to the World City,” by award-winning Belgian filmmaker Francoise Levie.

More information about the conference, including registration, times and locations of events, is available on the Web.