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Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)

Established 1830
Abbreviation RGS-IBG
Patron Queen Elizabeth II
President Michael Palin
Location Kensingtonmarker, Londonmarker, United Kingdommarker
Members 15,000
Homepage RGS IBG homepage
The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is a Britishmarker learned society founded in 1830 with the name Geographical Society of London for the advancement of geographical sciences, under the patronage of King William IV. It absorbed the 'Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa'--also known as the African Association--(founded by Sir Joseph Banks in 1788), the Raleigh Club and the Palestine Association. It was given a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1859.


The Royal Geographical Society was founded in 1830 as an institution to promote the advancement of geographical science. Founding members of the Society included Sir John Barrow, Sir John Franklin and Francis Beaufort. It has been a key associate and supporter of many famous explorers and expeditions, including those of Charles Darwin and David Livingstone.

Like many learned societies at the time of enlightenment, it started as a dining club in London, where select members held informal dinner debates on current scientific issues and ideas. Under the patronage of King William IV, it later became known as The Royal Geographical Society and was granted its Royal Charter under Queen Victoria in 1859. From the middle of the 19th century until the end of World War I, expeditions sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society were frequently front page news, and the opinions of its president and board members would be avidly sought by journalists and editors.

The Society also devoted much attention to education and was responsible for both the incorporation of the study of geography in schools at the turn of the 20th century and for the first university positions in the discipline.

In 1912, the Society moved to its current location, Lowther Lodgemarker in Kensingtonmarker, in Londonmarker. In 1935 the Society started publishing Geographical, a monthly magazine which features articles on geographical topics, the environment, conservation and travel.

With the advent of a more systematic study of geography, the Institute of British Geographers was formed in 1933, by some Society fellows, as a sister body to the Society. The RGS and IBG co-existed for 60 years until, after several years of discussion, they merged in January 1995 to form the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

With over 15,000 members, the Society is today the largest and most active of the scholarly geographical societies. It is a leading world centre for geographical learning - supporting education, teaching, research and scientific expeditions, as well as promoting public understanding and enjoyment of geography. It is a member of the Science Council. The Society’s purpose remains the same today as when it was first founded, namely the ‘advancement of geographical science’. However, the manner in which that is done has expanded greatly over the years, while still continuing to include publishing, the support of field research and expeditions, lectures and conferences, and its collections.

In May 2009, RGS-IBG Fellows defeated a motion to return to organising large-scale expeditions.

Governance and past Presidents


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 25 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 society has five specialist committees that it derives advice from
  • Education Committee
  • Research Committee
  • Expedition and Fieldwork Committee
  • Information Resources Committee
  • Finance Committee

Selected list of past Presidents


There are four categories of individual membership:

Ordinary membership

Anyone with an interest in geography is eligible to apply to become a member of the RGS-IBG.

Young Geographer

People aged between 14 and 24 currently studying, a recent graduate of geography or a related subject.


Fellowship of the Society is conferred to anyone over the age of 21 who has a deep involvement with geography (through research, publication, profession etc) and/or has been an ordinary member of the society for five previous years. The applicant must be proposed and seconded by existing Fellows and elected by Council. Fellows are granted the use of the post-nominal FRGS.

Postgraduate Fellow of the Society

Is open to anyone who is a postgraduate student in Geography or an allied subject at a United Kingdom university.

Chartered Geographer

Since 2002 the Society has been granted the power to award the status of Chartered Geographer. The status of Chartered Geographer can only be obtained 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 of Chartered Geographer allows the use of the post-nominal letters C Geog and is evidence of a commitment to continuing professional development and the highest professional standards.

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).

Research groups

The society is not only a learned body but also carries out research in the following research groups.

Research groups
Biogeography Research Group British Geomorphic Research Group
Climate Change Research Group Contract Research and Teaching Forum
Developing Areas Research Group Economic geography Research Group
Geographical Information Science Research Group Geography of Health Research Group
Geography of Lesiure and Tourism Research Group Higher Education Research Group
Historical Geography Research Group History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group
Mountain Research Group Participatory Geographies Working Group
Planning and Environment Research Group Political Geography Research Group
Population geography Research Group Postgraduate Forum
The Post-Socialist Geographies Research Group Quantitative Methods Research Group
Rural Geography Research Group Social and Cultural Geography Research Group
Space, Sexualities and Queer Working Group Transport Geography Research Group
Urban geography Research Group Women and Geography Research Group

Awards and grants

The society also presents many awards to geographers that have contributed to the advancement of geography.

The most prestigious of these awards are the Gold Medals (Founder's Medal 1830 and the Patron's Medal 1838). The award is given for "the encouragement and promotion of geographical science and discovery", and are approved by Queen Elizabeth II. The awards originated as an annual gift of fifty guineas from King William IV, first made in 1831, "to constitute a premium for the encouragement and promotion of geographical science and discovery". The Society decided in 1839 to change this monetary award into two gold medals: Founder’s Medal and the Patron’s. The award has been given to notable geographers including David Livingstone (1855), Nain Singh Rawat (1876),In 1876, his achievements were announced in the Geographical Magazine. The awards and recognition soon started flowing in. On his retirement, the Indian Government honoured him with the grant of a village, and 1000 rupees in revenue. The crowning achievement came in 1876, when the Royal Geographical Society honoured him with a gold medal as the ‘man who has added a greater amount of positive knowledge to the map of Asia than any individual of our time’ - Nagendra 1999. Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen (1878), Alfred Russel Wallace (1892), and Frederick Courtney Selous (1893) to more recent winners including Professor William Morris Davis (1919), Sir Halford John Mackinder (1945), Professor L. Dudley Stamp (1949), Professor Richard Chorley (1987) and Professor David Harvey (1995). In 2004 Harish Kapadia was awarded the Patron's Medal for contributions to geographical discovery and mountaineering in the Himalayas, making him the second Indian to receive the award in its history. In 2005 the Founder's Medal was awarded to Professor Sir Nicholas Shackleton for his research in the field of Quaternary Palaeoclimatology and the Patron's Medal was awarded to Professor Jean Malaurie for a lifelong study of the Arctic and its people. In 1902 they awarded khan Bahadur Sher Jang a Sword of Honour (the Black Memorial) in recognition of his valuable services to geography

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 Cuthbert Peak 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 "for geographical research in either Europe or the developing world"

The society also offers 16 grants for various purposes ranging from established researcher grants to expedition and fieldwork teams to photography and media grants. The Ralph Brown and the Gilchrist Fieldwork grants are the largest grants awarded by the society each worth £15,000.

See also


  1. Independent, 19 May 2009


Further reading

  • Mill, H.R. (1930) The record of the Royal Geographical Society, 1830-1930, London : Royal Geographical Society, 288 p.
  • Royal Geographical Society (2005) To the ends of the Earth : visions of a changing world : 175 years of exploration and photography, London : Bloomsbury, ISBN 0-7475-8138-X
  • Winser, S. (Ed.) (2004) Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers expedition handbook, New ed., London : Profile, ISBN 1-86197-044-7

External links


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