Bulletin Autumn 2021

About the Society

Need to know

The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is the UK’s learned society for geography and professional body for geographers. We are also a membership organisation and a registered charity.

The Society was founded in 1830 to advance geographical science and this remains our core purpose. We achieve this through supporting geographical research, education, and fieldwork and expeditions, as well as by advocating on behalf of the discipline and promoting geography to public audiences.

We value our independence as well as the breadth of our activities that support the understanding of the world’s people, places and environments. Everyone with an enthusiasm for geography, travel and exploration is welcome to join.

A message

From the President

It’s my great pleasure to write as President of our extraordinary Society.

Firstly, I would like to thank you, our members, for staying true to the Society over the last, exceptional, 18 months. Because of your loyalty, the imaginative team at the Society has maintained support for geographical education, research, expeditions and fieldwork with new and different resources delivered in new and different ways.

This positive response is one reason why I feel great optimism for geography. Our discipline is providing answers to today’s challenges – social, economic and environmental. This view is shared by many, as can be seen in the establishment of the UK’s first Geospatial Commission, which is promoting and investing in ‘location’ to help form and deliver policy across the UK.

More broadly, I believe geography brings with it valuable life skills: insatiable curiosity about how our world is constructed and evolving, a collaborative mindset, an appreciation of ‘connectedness’, and a desire to make a real-world difference. You will already know that geographers are a friendly bunch and I certainly found during my time at Ordnance Survey that geographers across the world are adept at forming strong, open and supportive communities.

We can look forward to an interesting year of renewal. I am delighted to be working with Joe, the Society’s team, Council, corporate sponsors and you all to spread the word, strengthen the Society and serve the discipline that we all love.

Image credit: Geospatial Commission



Welcome back

At the time of writing, the Foyle Reading Room is open by appointment only, and the Members’ Room is due to reopen in September. In-person events will also restart in September. Events, including Monday night lectures, will continue to be live streamed and recorded. Please check our website for information.

A remarkable legacy

We recently received a gift of £50,000 from the estate of Jennifer Fry. Jennifer was a Fellow for 27 years and a regular volunteer helping to care for the Society’s Collections. Her generous bequest will help us inspire new audiences by providing better interpretation and display of the Collections.

Contact Christine James at c.james@rgs.org to learn how your gift could be used to support the Society’s charitable work.

Council elections

Congratulations to our newest members of Council elected at the Annual General Meeting in June: Nigel Clifford (President), Stephen Jones (Honorary Secretary: Expeditions and Fieldwork), Helen Walkington (Councillor: Expeditions and Fieldwork), Melanie Norman (Vice President: Education), Narinder Mann (Councillor: Education), Rachel Pain (Chair of Annual Conference: Research and Higher Education) and Vandana Desai (Councillor: Research and Higher Education), Jordi Buckley (Postgraduate Representative).

Thank you to our outgoing members of Council for their hard work and dedication.

A piece of history

A new publication by the Folio Society, Everest From Reconnaissance to Summit, 1921 to 1953 recounts five key expeditions to Everest and includes incredible mountain photographs held in the Society’s archives, alongside testimony gathered from articles memoirs, reports and letters.,

This remarkable two volume edition is available to buy from the Folio Society.

Birthday honours

Congratulations to all those recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours, including Sir Michael Gooley, chairman of Trailfinders on his knighthood for services to business and charity.


Congratulations to Professor Felix Driver, Royal Holloway, University of London, who was awarded the Society for the History of Natural History President’s Medal for his research on the Hidden Histories of Exploration, and to Professor Paul Bates, University of Bristol, who was recently elected as Fellow of the Royal Society.

Online joining

You can now join and gift Ordinary Membership, Young Geographer membership or School Membership by completing a quick and easy online form.

Image credit: Folio Society



Geography superheroes

We have transformed real-life geographers into superheroes to inspire young people to think about their power for change.

Each of the cartoon geography superheroes can be collected, shared and displayed to complement accompanying resources including podcasts and lectures.

Our initial superheroes include Earth scientist, Dr Anjana Khatwa, Black Geographers founder, Francisca Rockey, flood expert and climate change modeller, Professor Hannah Cloke, and Seals from Space researcher, Prem Gill.

Financial Times competition

We are seeking thoughtful and well-argued responses from sixth form students for our third School Essay Competition with the Financial Times, as part of its education programme. In anticipation of the COP26 summit, entries must explain how transport changes might help the world achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. With a focus on the movement of food or the movement of people, submissions should reference data and FT articles to demonstrate how we can accelerate action. The deadline for entries is 1 October.

Stay Home Stories

To understand the domestic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Society is a partner on the Mapping Home strand of the Stay Home Stories research project. Pupils from across Key Stages 2-4 have been invited to take part in a nationwide mapping exercise which will help illuminate how children and young people’s experiences of home may have changed. Resources are available for teachers to support the development of mapping skills and encourage engagement with a sense of place. The materials produced, including the winning entries from this year’s Young Geographer of the Year competition, will be brought together in a virtual exhibition later in the year.

Thames Valley Police resources

The Society has partnered with Thames Valley Police (TVP) on research into the geography of bike crime, using local and national data to explore its patterns and distribution. The first educational resource comprises a scheme of work and podcast featuring TVP officers and analysts who use GIS to track crime. Young people will be invited to contribute to the research by mapping how bikes in their area are locked and stored.

Weddell Sea partnership

We are pleased that the Society’s Weddell Sea Educational partnership, supported by the Flotilla Foundation, has been extended and the Society will continue to create educational resources to engage young people with Antarctica’s unique terrestrial and marine environments.

Image credit: Streetpods

From the field


In the field

A small number of researchers funded by our grants programme have been able to go into the field in a safe and responsible manner. PhD student Daniela Soto, University of Sussex, is working in South America investigating lithium extraction, supported by the Dudley Stamp Memorial Award. Julio Rodríguez Stimson, University of Cambridge, is nearing the end of 12 months of fieldwork on the Galapagos Islands, studying how people understand, perceive, and adapt to climate change.

Expeditions and Fieldwork Handbook

The Transglobe Expedition Trust has signed an MOU with the Society, which includes a donation of £50,000, to support a multi-media expeditions and fieldwork handbook. The Society’s grant applicants, Explore attendees and students conducting fieldwork will all benefit from this resource.

Grants supporting 32 projects

With the generous support of our donors, over £91,000 of funding has been allocated this year to support 32 field research projects. An increased number of projects will be studying geographical issues in the UK, including investigating the geography of antibiotic- and vaccine-related attitudes, alongside further afield studies. Application deadlines for the 2022 grants programme begin in November 2021.

Funding opportunities

We have recently revamped our list of grant-giving organisations to make it easier to find funding for fieldwork. Alongside the Society’s own grants programme, this resource is a great place to start when looking for funding for your own expeditions and fieldwork.

Image credit: Julio Rodriguez Stimson



Geography in government

The Government Geography Profession awards celebrated excellence in geography across the public sector. The overall winners were Public Health England’s GIS Team, Emergency Preparedness Division, for their contribution to the COVID-19 response, and the Office for National Statistics Data Science Campus, for their machine learning approach to estimating vehicle and pedestrian activity.

Knowledge exchange and briefing

The Society hosted an online event on realising co-benefits in blue-green cities. A panel of geographers, engineers and designers discussed the transformative change needed in how urban flood risk and water security are managed. A policy briefing has since been published, setting out recommendations for action.

Location data ethics

The Society has signed up as a supporter of the Locus Charter, a proposed set of common international principles to guide responsible practice when using location data, supporting data owners and users to safeguard privacy, protect the vulnerable and address any harmful impacts of bias. We are now working with the Association for Geographic Information (AGI) to support geographers in putting the principles into practice. We are also engaging with wider initiatives around data ethics and responsible uses of location data, such as the Geospatial Commission’s public dialogues project, the UK Statistics Authority’s advice for researchers and statisticians on the use of geospatialdata, and resources for exploring location data ethics in universities.

Image credit: Emily O’Donnell

Research and Higher Education


Annual Conference 2021

We are looking forward to welcoming you to our largely virtual annual conference between Tuesday 31 August and Friday 3 September. The conference is on track to be the largest on record with over 475 sessions and a stimulating programme of keynotes, convened by conference chair Uma Kothari. Registration is available up to and during the conference – contact us at ac2021@rgs.org for more information.

Research Group interview series

The Society’s Quantitative Methods Research Group (QMRG), in collaboration with the Spatial Analytics and Data (SAD) Seminar Series, have launched Spatial Analytics and Data: the interviews, a forum for dialogue among researchers united by an interest in geographic data and spatial analytics.

An extension of the SAD seminar series, it offers a platform for experts in spatial analytics and data to offer their insights on the evolutions in the field. Interviewees include Michael Batty, Helen Couclelis and Danny Dorling.

Support for geographical research

The Society is delighted to be partnering with a number of geographers who are leading UK Research and Innovation funded research projects, to further our understanding of the world, its people, places and environments. The projects include, among others, developing a new generation of global flood models, looking at the effects of El Nino on the lives of vulnerable groups in Peru, understanding how ideas and experiences of home have changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and transforming discussions about race and anti-racism in UK higher education institutions.

One of the projects, led by Professor Gavin Bridge at Durham University, is investigating the ongoing transformation of the UK’s strategic position within global oil networks. Using social science methods and an innovative research design, the project will contribute new knowledge about the changing role of different ‘assets’ in the UK for international oil firms and advance understanding about the processes that connect national and global economies.

We are working with the project teams to disseminate the findings of the research to geography students, professionals and the wider public. We will provide updates on all the projects as they progress.

Image credit: Panel 8 Photography



Autumn events programme

At the time of writing, we are planning for Society-organised events, including our Monday night lecture series, to be held in the Ondaatje Theatre in front of a live audience. We will continue to live stream our events so that they are available to Fellows and members wherever they live. You can access the live stream of our Monday night lectures, and other events, by logging in to the Members’ Area and accessing our Livestream page. If you haven’t previously logged in, you can set a password using the ‘forgotten password’ link on the login page. Bookings will be required for all in person events, including Monday night lectures, and can be made via each event’s page on our website.

Our regional committees are intending to provide a mix of both in person and online events throughout the autumn. All of our plans are dependent on dependent on government and public health policies, advice and guidance, and as such we may have to alter them at short notice. However, we will keep you informed as and when things are confirmed or need to be changed.

Please check our website for the most up to date event information.

Welcoming you back to the Society

Have a safe visit...

Wear a face covering

Please ensure that this is worn correctly including over the nose.

Wash your hands

Hand sanitiser is available on arrival. Please wash or sanitise your hands thoroughly and at regular intervals during your visit.

Follow the one-way system and observe social distancing

There is a one-way route signposted through the building which is easy to follow and makes social distancing possible.

Pre-booked attendance only

All event attendees, including Society Fellows and members, need to book a ticket in advance.

For more details about how we are keeping you safe visit our website.

Visual archives of travel

Felix Driver

The Society’s Collections, acquired over a period of nearly two hundred years and covering a wide range of subjects, are amongst its greatest assets. In recent years, much work has been done to unlock their potential in education, research and public engagement, through digitisation, interpretation, exhibition and new scholarship.

Re-activating the knowledge which lies dormant in the Collections is no small challenge given their scale and diversity: more than a million maps, half a million photographs, hundreds of thousands of books and periodicals, an astonishing collection of manuscripts, pictures and drawings, an intriguing set of artefacts and the recently digitised film collection.

Re-activating such historic collections often requires innovative approaches to research, education and public engagement, as witnessed in anthropologist Paul Basu’s lecture in March 2021 on the subject of ‘Colonial collections in decolonial times’.

Such work reminds us that while collections may be artefacts of past times, they are also cultural assets capable of inspiring present and future generations. And sometimes, as befits an active collection, new opportunities are presented by new donations. In recent years, for example, the Society’s 20th century Collections have been significantly enhanced through the donation of unique archival material relating to the Everest cinematographer John Noel, the travel writer Eric Newby and the tropical ecologist Michael Eden.

Pitcairn Island, 1851-3

The latest donation to the Society significantly extends an existing collection of drawings made by a Victorian naval surgeon and amateur artist, John Linton Palmer (1824-1903), which I have been recently researching. To the six albums already in the Society’s collection (containing sketches made during a naval career which included service across the Pacific) are now added a seventh, in the same design, containing a total of 108 watercolour and pencil sketches made in the British Isles. These sketches include the earliest of Linton Palmer’s drawings (an art he clearly learned as a child) dating from the 1830s, as well as those made on service around the coasts of Britain and Ireland, and during the long years he spent in retirement. Like the drawings in the other albums, those in the newly acquired Home Album have been cut from sketch books and reassembled in a new sequence, a form which enabled sharing with family and friends.

Tahiti, 1867

There is so much to interest social and art historians in visual archives like these. Apart from memorialising sites of personal interest, from family homes to archaeological sites, they present a peculiarly Victorian topographical vision of the nation in which biography is intertwined with history, antiquity and myth. Amongst the most interesting drawings in the Home Album are a series of sketches and plans by Linton Palmer relating to the excavation of the stone circle at Calanais on the Isle of Lewis in 1857. These are unique and important historical documents in their own right. When seen alongside other historical and archaeological evidence concerning the site, they have the potential to make an important contribution to our knowledge of one of the most celebrated historical landscapes in Britain.

Callanish, Hebrides, 1857

Cromarty, looking towards Invergordon, c.1857

Medals and awards

2021 Royal Medal recipients

Our medals and awards recognised 23 recipients for extraordinary achievements in geographical research, practice, fieldwork, teaching, and public engagement. We caught up with this year’s Royal Medalists, Andy Eavis and Dr Rita Gardner CBE, to find out more about their achievements, why geography is important and how the discipline may evolve in the future.

Founder’s Medal

Andy Eavis was awarded the Founder’s Medal for his significant contribution in leading speleological expeditions, exploring and recording some of the largest caves in the world for over 50 years.

Q: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?

“The ability to organise a team of wonderful cave explorers. Together we have traveled around the world, exploring and surveying some of the largest cave passages known. We were lucky enough to be able to go to places like China and Borneo, at a time when they were just opening up and no caves had been explored. A golden age of cave exploration.”

Q: How has the field of speleology changed during your career and where could it go in the future?

“A great change has been the science, enabling us to date the caves and sediments and get a tremendous history. In addition, the technology has changed dramatically. I’ve done a project recently laser scanning all the largest caves in the world, giving a 3D image of these wonderful underground features.”

Q: What would you say to young cavers starting out today?

“I moved from recreational caving into what I found more interesting areas of cave exploration, such as organising the expeditions, which involves a huge number of facets, many of them political and financial. All that became part of exploring caves in a modern world. If you like challenges, if you like original exploration, you’ve got 90% of the caves of the world to go at. Get going, get organised, go for it.”

Image credit: University of Hull

Patron’s Medal

Dr Rita Gardner CBE was awarded the Patron’s Medal for the widespread advancement of geography across all its sub-disciplines through her Directorship of the Society.

Q: What are you most proud of in your career?

“I’m most proud of leading the transformation of the RGS-IBG from the time when those two bodies merged back in the mid 1990s until 2018. I’m also incredibly proud of being the first female, and academic, Director of the Society. Lastly, I’m really proud of being a key part of convincing the government to put geography in the English Baccalaureate.”

Q: How do you view geography’s place in society today?

“We live our lives in societies, in places, and our activities both use and impact on the environment every single day. Understanding people, communities, places and environments, and the way in which they interact with each other are at the very heart of geography. The understanding of that is vital to our future, to government policy making and to our role as citizens within society.”

Q: What do you think the future of geography looks like?

“Geography will continue to evolve with new specialisms emerging. I think we will see a continuation of the trend towards geospatial analysis and interpretation. I’d like to see more geographers taking up the challenge to apply their knowledge and skills to helping solve some of the really difficult challenges we face as a society, because that in part is what inspires young people about geography, being useful to the world as a whole"

Reclaiming the map

Race and (in)security

The Society is delighted to be a partner of the Creative approaches to race and (in)security in the Caribbean and the UK (CARICUK) research project, which aims to transform discussions about race and anti-racism in UK higher education institutions.

Led by Dr Pat Noxolo, the AHRC funded EDI engagement project brings together artists and educators to provoke, participate and transform discussions, redefining race as an (in)security and encouraging education institutions to actively participate in anti-racist learning and transformation.

CARICUK has three elements. The first, the provocation, involved three collaborations with artists to encourage public conversations about how race can be understood as an (in)security. The second draws students and teachers into the discussion, and involves developing a range of online learning resources which encourage young people to produce their own artworks about Caribbean and racialised (in)securities. Finally, short films will record young Black people engaging with the Society’s building and archival materials, in order to think about what tangible institutional changes can be made in the short and long term.

Pat said:

“I want to think creatively about insecurity in the world, about race as one of those insecurities, and I want to think about the Caribbean and the UK. The other thing I want to do with this project is to make the issue of race in education more easily, openly and explicitly talked about and discussed. I think there’s quite a lot of anxiety around race, we know that there are things to be addressed but for the UK there’s such a long imperial history, people find it quite hard to talk about, particularly in contexts that have been very heavily affected by colonialism, such as geography.”

Shredding and Braiding the Map, Maplective

As part of the provocation element of the project, an original artwork by visual artist Sonia E. Barrett was installed at the Society’s building in South Kensington earlier this year. Titled Dreading the Map, the sculpture drew on surplus maps of the Caribbean and East Africa, some from the Society’s Collections, and used Black hair techniques to remake and reclaim what the maps represent. Sonia and a group of Black women co-creators shredded, plaited and weaved the maps together to create the installation.

Sonia said of the artwork:

“I thought it would be really exciting to make this work in the Map Room at the Society, where so many map makers have departed from and critically returned to recount their versions of what they saw.”

Pat added:

“Sonia’s work raised a number of really important geographical issues, around place and the making of place, around connection and how we interrelate with each other, and around mapping. How do we understand the map and what is its job in the current times? Sonia’s work cut right to the centre of what we want the project to do.”

Director of the Society, Professor Joe Smith, said:

“We are really excited to be a partner to CARICUK, which has the potential to catalyse critical discussions and change at the Society. We are in the early stages of a project to rethink how our building works, enabling greater public engagement with the past, present and future of geography, and the Society, through enhanced interpretation of the building and its contents. CARICUK will help to directly shape this work, with long lasting legacies.”

Image credits: Damion Griffiths and Oliver Barratt

Gifting a year of inspiration

Young Geographer membership

With a new academic year approaching, and online joining now available, this is the ideal time to gift Young Geographer membership to a budding geographer in your life. You can support their passion and interests with our valuable resources and opportunities that will develop their understanding of the world’s people, places and environments.

For just £52 you can give a year of digital access to Geographical magazine, unlocking dynamic, informative and broad conversations across culture, wildlife and exploration. Your recipient will thrive with a variety of educational resources and early career support at all stages. They will have access to our renowned Monday night lectures and extensive events programme of in person and online events, as well as the opportunity to browse the catalogue of over 200 event recordings.

For anyone between the ages of 14 and 24, or studying geography at any age, Young Geographer membership will inspire learning and discovery.

Corporate Partners

Cover image credit: Dreading the map/Damion Griffiths