The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) is the UK's learned society and professional body for geography, founded in 1830 for the advancement of geographical sciences. Today, it is the leading centre for geographers and geographical learning. The Society has over 16,500 members and its work reaches millions of people each year through publications, research groups and lectures.
From 1830 – 1840 the RGS met in the rooms of the Horticultural Society in Regent Street, London and from 1854 -1870 at 15 Whitehall Place, London. In 1870, the Society finally found a home when it moved to 1 Savile Row, London – an address that quickly became associated with adventure and travel.
The Society also used a lecture theatre in Burlington Gardens, London which was lent to it by the Civil Service Commission. However, the arrangements were thought to be rather cramped and squalid.
The Society has been a key associate and supporter of many famous explorers and expeditions, including those of:
A new impetus was given to the Society's affairs in 1911, with the election of Earl Curzon, the former Viceroy of India, as the Society's President (1911–1914). The premises in Savile Row were sold and the present site, Lowther Lodge in Kensington Gore, was purchased for £100,000 and opened for use in April 1913. In the same year the Society's ban on women was lifted.
The history of the Society was closely allied for many of its earlier years with 'colonial' exploration in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the polar regions, and central Asia especially.
The early history of the Society is inter-linked with the history of British Geography, exploration and discovery. Information, maps, charts and knowledge gathered on expeditions was sent to the RGS, making up its now unique geographical collections. The Society published its first journal in 1831 and from 1855, accounts of meetings and other matters were published in the Society Proceedings. In 1893, this was replaced by The Geographical Journal which is still published today.
The Society was also pivotal in establishing Geography as a teaching and research discipline in British universities, and funded the first Geography positions in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
2012 Poster for exhibition in the glass Pavilion on centenary of Scott's final expedition to the South Pole
With the advent of a more systematic study of geography, the Institute of British Geographers (IBG) was formed in 1933, by some academic Society fellows, as a sister body to the Society. Its activities included organising conferences, field trips, seminars and specialist research groups and publishing the journal, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. The RGS and IBG co-existed for 60 years until 1992 when a merger was discussed. In 1994, members were balloted and the merger agreed. In January 1995, the new Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) was formed.
In 2004, The Society's historical Collections relating to scientific exploration and research, which are of national and international importance, were opened to the public for the first time. In the same year, a new category of membership was introduced to widen access for people with a general interest in geography. The new Foyle Reading Room and glass Pavilion exhibition space were also opened to the public in 2004 – unlocking the Society intellectually, visually and physically for the 21st century. For example, in 2012 the RGS held an exhibition, in the glass Pavilion, of photographs taken by Herbert Ponting on Captain Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1912.
The Society is governed by its Board of trustees called the Council, which is chaired by its President. The members of Council and the President are elected from its Fellowship. The council consists of 36 members, 22 of which are elected by Fellows and serve for a three-year term. In addition to the elected trustees, there are Honorary members (who include the Duke of Kent as Honorary President) who sit on the council.
The applications for fellowship of the society must either be proposed and seconded by an existing fellow or an individual may submit evidence of his or her own work and academic publications in the field of geography and closely related subjects such as international development and climate change. Applicants must be of at least 21 years of age and provide evidence of a body of relevant work; alternatively, a previous five-year commitment at the regular member level (less, at the council's discretion) is also considered for eligibility. Fellows may use the post-nominal designation FRGS after their names.
Since 2002 the society has been granted the power to award the status of chartered geographer. The status of can be obtained only by those who have a degree in geography or related subject and at least 6 years' geographical experience, or 15 years' geographical work experience for those without a degree. Being awarded the status allows the use of the post-nominal letters "CGeog".
Chartered geographer (teacher) is a professional accreditation available to teachers who can demonstrate competence, experience and professionalism in the use of geographical knowledge or skills in and out of the classroom, and who are committed to maintaining their professional standards through ongoing continuing professional development (CPD).
The Society's Research and Study Groups bring together active researchers and professional geographers in particular areas of geography. There are 27 active research groups, with each group organising their own seminars, conferences, workshops and other activities.
In total the society awards 17 medals and awards including Honorary Membership and Fellowships. Some of the other awards given by the Society include:
The Victoria Medal (1902) for "conspicuous merit in research in Geography"
The Murchison Award (1882) for the "publication judged to contribute most to geographical science in preceding recent years"
The Back Award (1882) for "applied or scientific geographical studies which make an outstanding contribution to the development of national or international public policy"
The Busk Medal for "conservation research or for fieldwork abroad in Geography or in a geographical aspect of an allied science"
The Cuthbert Peek Award (1883) for "those advancing geographical knowledge of human impact on the environment through the application of contemporary methods, including those of earth observation and mapping"
The Edward Heath Award (1984) for "geographical research in either Europe or the developing world"
The Cherry Kearton Medal and Award for "a traveller concerned with the study or practice of natural history, with a preference for those with an interest in nature photography, art or cinematography".
The Ness Award for "for travellers, particularly those who have successfully popularised Geography and the wider understanding of our world and its environments"
The Society's Collections consist of over two million documents, maps, photographs, paintings, periodicals, artefacts and books, and span 500 years of geography, travel and exploration. The Society preserves the Collections for the benefit of future generations, while providing public access and promoting Collections-related educational programmes for schools and lifelong learners. The Foyle Reading Room acts as a consultation space for using the Society's collections, and hosts showcases and workshops as well as the Be Inspired series of talks.
The artefacts collection includes over a thousand items brought to the Society, consisting mainly of cultural objects from around the world, ranging from Inuit boots (from Canadian Arctic) to ceremonial leopard’s claws (from the then Belgian Congo), paraphernalia of exploration, for example oxygen sets used in the various attempts on Everest, and personal items belonging to some of the world’s greatest explorers, such as Shackleton’s Burberry helmet. Artefacts from the collection have been loaned to exhibitions around the world and are in continual demand.
The library collection holds over 150,000 bound volumes which date primarily from the foundation of the Society in 1830 onwards, and focus on the history and geography of places worldwide. Example volumes include information on European migration, a 19th-century guidebook to Berlin, and David Livingstone’s account of his search for the source of the Nile. It currently receives around 800 journal titles, as well as many more journal titles that are either not currently subscribed to, or have ceased publication, allowing Society members access to the latest geographical academic literature in addition to the journals published by the RGS-IBG itself.
The RGS-IBG houses a unique collection of 4,500 expedition reports. These documents contain details of the achievements and research results of expeditions to almost every country of the world. The catalogue of these reports, and over 8,500 planned and past expeditions, is held on a database which provides contact with a wide variety of sporting, scientific and youth expeditions from 1965 to the present day.
The Society holds one of the largest private map collections in the world which is continuously increasing. It includes one million sheets of maps and charts, 3000 atlases, 40 globes and 1000 gazetteers. The earliest printed item in the Collection dates back to 1482. The RGS-IBG also holds manuscript materials from the mid sixteenth century onwards, aerial photography from 1919 and contemporary satellite images.
The Manuscript archive collection consists of material arising out of the conduct of Society business and manuscripts relating to persons or subjects of special interest. The document collection includes a few papers from before the Society's foundation in 1830, and is particularly useful to biographers of nineteenth and early twentieth century travellers and geographers, as well as research into the development of geographical knowledge and the historical development of geography.
The Society’s Picture Library holds over half a million photographs, artworks, negatives, lantern slides and albums dating from around 1830, offering a rich source of imagery from a golden age of travel and exploration, to modern geographical depictions. Historic images range from the great Antarctic adventures of Scott and Shackleton to the pioneering journeys of Livingstone, Baker, Speke and Burton.
An important way in which the RGS-IBG develops new knowledge and advances geographical science is by providing funding for geographical research and scientific expeditions. The Society offers a number of grants to researchers, students, teachers and independent travellers. More than 70 projects are supported each year and in excess of £180,000 is awarded annually. Research has been conducted in more than 120 countries, from Namibia to Brazil to Greenland.
Expeditions, fieldwork and independent travel grants
Every year the RGS-IBG helps teams of students and researchers to get into the field with Geographical Fieldwork Grants, the Society's longest running grant scheme. The newest initiative is the RGS-IBG International Field Centre Grants, for work in international field centres in developing nations. Independent travel grants support challenging and inspiring geographical journeys and expeditions. There are opportunities to challenge yourself physically and mentally through the Neville Shulman Challenge Award, and to make a radio documentary about an inspiring journey with a Journey of a Lifetime Award. The Land Rover Bursary supports those who want to take a journey beyond their limits and boundaries.
Each year, the Society supports over 50 student fieldwork projects, from PhD students collecting data for their dissertation to groups of undergraduates looking to get out into the field for the first time. Grants are available for both human and physical geography projects, in any area of the world.
The Society supports a range of field and desk-based research by academic geographers, from established researchers undertaking cutting edge fieldwork to early career academics working on smaller projects. The RGS-IBG also supports academics attending geographical conferences around the world. Some awards focus on particular geographical regions or topics, with others open to any aspect of the discipline.
The Society supports innovation in teaching geography at secondary and higher education level, offering several Awards for school teachers to work alongside researchers at the cutting edge of geographical research, so to develop educational resources for the classroom, and to create imaginative and innovative teaching materials.
The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)'s scholarly publications provide an outlet and support for the dissemination of high quality research across the breadth of the discipline. In 2012, three main journals alone were accessed online internationally over 1.3 million times.
21st Century Challenges is the Society's discussion series that aims to improve public understanding of, and engagement with, some of the big issues likely to affect our lives and society in the coming years. The talks are held at the Society's headquarters in South Kensington, London, with all talks available to watch online along with additional information. 
Discovering Britain is a website featuring a series of self-led geographical walks that help explain the stories behind the UK's built and natural landscapes. Each walk explores a particular landscape, finding out about the way in which the forces of nature, people, events and the economy have created and shaped the area. There are now more than 120 walks on the Discovering Britain website, covering all regions of the United Kingdom. Walks are themed according to the landscape in which they are located, including built, prehistoric, historic, working, hidden and changing landscapes. Walks also look at people in the landscape, and shaping, preserving and exploiting the landscape.
Hidden Journeys is a public engagement project of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) that started in 2010. The Hidden Journeys website combines images, stories and maps (many from the Society's geographical collections) into a series of interactive guides of popular flight paths, enabling people to explore the incredible places they fly over and might see from the air. Since launching, online guides have been published for more than 25 flight paths, including London to Johannesburg, New York to Los Angeles, Sydney to Singapore, Madrid to Rio de Janeiro.
In December 2013, Singapore Airlines began a trial of an enhanced moving map that featured Hidden Journeys content. Developed in partnership between Hidden Journeys and the IFE software company Airborne Interactive, the enhanced map is available for the Singapore-London route on the airline's brand new Boeing 777-300ER (flight number SQ308 and SQ319), and features a range of geographical facts and highlights, photography and maps, all curated by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). Information is delivered in real time, with content changing as the flight progresses, so for example, while a passenger is passing over the United Kingdom, they'll be met with a pop-up that explains the origins and importance of the English Channel.
The RGS-IBG education department offers courses, resources, accreditation, grants, awards and school membership, all for the benefit of teachers, students and parents. It also runs the Geography Ambassador scheme.
The Society produces cases studies, lesson plans and activity ideas for an all levels of learning, from KS1 up to post-GCSE. The Geography in the News website is available for Schools Members and Young Geographers. It has more than 300 topical case studies. Many of the Society's other resources are free to use.
The Geography Ambassadors scheme recruits, trains and supports volunteer undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate geographers from universities and business. Geography Ambassadors deliver lively, activity-based sessions at schools and they engage with more than 30,000 pupils each year. The scheme is aimed at introducing students to the benefits of studying geography beyond a compulsory level in schools, but also into higher education and employment.
Geographical is the official monthly magazine of the Society, and has been published continuously since 1935. The magazine contains illustrated articles on people, places, adventure, travel, and environmental issues, as well as summarising the latest academic research and discoveries in geography. Geographical also reports news of the Society's latest work and activities to members and the public.