Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Royal Geographic Society

When Robert Scott arrived at the south pole in January of 1912, he found Amundsen and his party had arrive long before them. Scott and his party all perished on their return journey. Historians have argued over the causes of their deaths for a hundred years. One clue to this debate is a bag of provisions that the party was carrying, frozen in time, consisting of tea and curry, which is now kept at the Royal Geographic Society's archive.

George Mallory's boot at the Royal Geographic Society.
Other treasures include many of the possessions of George Mallory that were taken from his body by the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition in 1999, to prove they had found him.

The collection at the Royal Geographic Society consists of objects from around the world, collected by the Society's explorers, objects belonging to the explorers themselves, historical scientific data, and scientific instruments. This means most of their collection relates to some particular areas of interest, such as the African Nile, the Polar Regions, including the Northwest passage, and Mount Everest.

The archive is responsible for 2 million items, including 500,000 maps, globes, and pictures, and an expansive library. The Society's reading room was finished in 2004 and the institute tries to have a map specialist and librarian available at all times.

Hats of David Livingstone and Henry
Morton Stanley at the Royal
Geographic Society.
While all the map catalog cards are digitized, there are still 400,000 cards waiting to be digitized. Any person in education may use the archive for free, including librarians and students, and, incidentally, student librarians. If course the Society's members have access for no additional fee. All other users may access the archive at a very reasonable 10 pounds per day.

There are quite a few artifacts relating to Dr. David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, including an illustration of the two in their first meeting when Stanley found Livingstone in the heart of Africa, as well as the hats they were both purported to be wearing. Stanley's boots and additional cap are also archived here.

This visit was awe-inspiring, both the knowledge of our tour guide, Principle Librarian, Eugene Rae, and in the depth of the collection. A quick look around the picture library will convince anyone of the overwhelming value of the Royal Geographic Society's archive.

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