Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, and Vannevar Bush's Memex

Michael K. Buckland

Michael K. Buckland, Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, and Vannevar Bush's Memex, Journal of The American Society for Information Science, 43(4):284-294, May 1992.

Vannevar Bush's famous paper "As We May Think" (1945) described an imaginary information retrieval machine, the Memex. The Memex is usually viewed, unhistorically, in relation to subsequent developments using digital computers. This paper attempts to reconstruct the little-known background of information retrieval in and before 1939 when "As We May Think" was originally written. The Memex was based on Bush's work during 1938-1940 developing an improved photoelectric microfilm selector, an electronic retrieval technology pioneered by Emanuel Goldberg of Zeiss Ikon, Dresden, in the 1920s. Visionary statements by Paul Otlet (1934) and Walter Schuermeyer (1935) and the development of electronic document retrieval technology before Bush are examined.


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