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  • Cited by 2
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    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Michaelian, Kourken 2012. Is external memory memory? Biological memory and extended mind. Consciousness and Cognition, Vol. 21, Issue. 3, p. 1154.

    Hale, Matthew Hawkins, Richard and Wright, Catherine 2008. List of publications on the economic and social history of Great Britain and Ireland published in 2007. The Economic History Review, Vol. 61, Issue. 4, p. 949.


Before Memex: Robert Hooke, John Locke, and Vannevar Bush on External Memory

  • Richard Yeo (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 March 2007


In 1945 Vannevar Bush proposed a machine that acted as a “supplement” to memory and met the particular information needs of its user. Because this “memex” recorded “trails” of selected documents, it has been seen as a precursor to hypertext. However, this paper considers Bush in relation to earlier concerns about memory and information, via the ideas of Robert Hooke and John Locke. Whereas Bush modeled the memex on the associative processes of natural memory, Hooke and Locke concluded that an external archive had to allow collective reason to overcome the limits of individual memory, including its tendency to freeze and repeat patterns of ideas. Moreover, they envisaged an institutional archive rather than one controlled by the interests and mental associations of an individual. From this early modern perspective, Bush's memex appears as a personal device for managing information that incorporates assumptions inimical to the strategies required for scientific analysis.

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Science in Context
  • ISSN: 0269-8897
  • EISSN: 1474-0664
  • URL: /core/journals/science-in-context
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