One of the world’s largest collections of geographical knowledge opens to the public for the first time at a new study centre at the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) in London.
The resources include two million items – maps, photographs, books, artefacts and documents – that tell the story of 500 years of geographical research and exploration.
The Heritage Lottery Fund-supported project is entitled ‘Unlocking the Archives’. The £7.1 million scheme gives full public access to study the Society’s heritage resources for the first time in its 174-year history. A new study centre has been created as an extension to the Society’s building on Exhibition Road, Kensington, London; a free catalogue of the heritage resources is on the Internet.
There are many important records from the so-called golden age of geographical exploration in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These include the South Polar Times edited by Shackleton during Captain Scott’s 1902-03 expedition to Antarctica and Dr. Livingstone’s watercolour sketches of the Victoria Falls in Africa (image available). From more recent times, there are maps used for the Normandy D-day landings 60 years ago, and the diaries of Lord Hunt who led the first successful ascent of Everest.
The computerisation of substantial parts of the card catalogues for the first time enables users to search the heritage holdings via the Internet. More than 210,000 card records have been painstakingly transferred to an electronic catalogue so that people can discover what the Society holds in its archives. Education for schools, universities and adult learners is a key part of the project. Maps, documents and photographs offer insights into the histories of communities who migrated to the UK from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.
Dr Rita Gardner CBE, Director of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), said: “The transparency of the glass pavilion symbolises the opening up of the Society visually, intellectually and physically to all those interested in learning about our geographical heritage and its relevance to understanding and managing the modern world. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to understand the world in which they live and the impact of their lives upon it.”