The Royal Geographical Society had a huge impact on the shaping of 19th century British imperialism as well as the world we live in today. Originally a dining club for British gentlemen, it became a more formal society in the 1840s. It's manifesto: to collect geographical knowledge and disseminate it to the greater society. To do so, the society urged people to travel and gather information and then had the information written up in a journal. Out of this, it became necessary for the RGS to start a library to hold all of the material brought back from the travelers as well as items purchased by the society.
Today, the RGS is still in existence but does not fund as many large trips as it once did. This is in an attempt to lessen the stigma of imperialism that is attached to the name of the society. However, the library holds vast amounts of historical information that conjure up Indiana Jones-esque adventures. Our session at the library allowed us to see some of the most important items in the collection. The RGS traveled to Africa, the Polar Regions, Antarctica, and Central Asia, and thus the items in the collection reflect these regions.
We saw a lot so here is a short listing of some of the items:
- Maps Maps Maps! The collection has over 1 million maps and it takes up about 1/2 of the collection itself. We saw maps drawn by the explorers who tried to find the source of the Nile. Some of these are the earliest maps of inner Africa ever known to man.
- Photographs: the photographs consist of about 1/2 million items and we were shown drawings of African animals by some of the explorers
- Objects: There are only 1500 items in this part of the collection but they are some of the most expensive and one-of-a-kind items in the collection.
Here is a short list of what we saw:
- Dr. Livingstone's Hat
- Sir Henry Stanley's Pith Helmet
- Shackleton's balaclava
- George Malley's mountaineering boot
- John Speke's sextant
There were all amazing and the librarians/archivist had packed them away well to preserve the items. While we did not scratch the surface of what the RGS has to offer, a visit to this institution allowed us a glimpse into the past and whet our appetite for more adventures!