Adventures in Archives

June 14, 2016

“Founded in 1830, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is dedicated to the development and promotion of geographical knowledge, together with its application to the challenges facing society and the environment.”

What a lovely experience was to be had at the Royal Geographic Society!  And a surprise to find that this organization is a charity and depends upon membership, foundations, and individuals interested in specific projects for its funding.  For information about the history of the Society, please go to http://www.rgs.org/AboutUs/History.htm.  Although the Queen is the Patron of the Society, there is no government funding.

Mr. Eugene Rae, Principle Librarian, was our host of the day in the Foyle Reading Room where he had laid out a veritable smorgasbord of archival materials.  Since this is my field, my greatest difficulty was in not being able to handle everything, although the maps were high quality reproductions and could actually be touched.  Of most interest were the artifacts that he had laid out; Mr. Rae used these to tell a story of exploration that was fascinating.  On display were items such as the hats of David Livingston and Henry Stanley and a single boot of explorer George Mallory who never made it off Mount Everest though speculation today is that he could POSSIBLY have reached the top and was on his descent when he died.

The Royal Geographical Society holds 2,000,000 items and researchers come from all over the world, and the goal is to “disseminate information,” according to Mr. Rae.  Some of the artifacts and manuscripts held by the Society include atlases, the oldest one having belonged to William Morrison, huge globes, small globes, images on glass plates and glass lantern slides, photographs, paintings, and drawings.  Many of the 250,000 monographs hail from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  The archives hold “500 or so” boxes of materials.  The object collection is the smallest but also the one most in demand, and theses often go out on exhibitions.  The items listed above are only a few of the 1500 objects in the collection, which also includes compasses some of which are sometimes loaned to explorers.

Mr. Rae is currently facilitating two PHD students, one of whom is working with instruments and the other with the glass lantern slide collection.  In the nineteenth century the Society, though founded for exploration, began to focus on “geography for its own sake” and helped to get the subject into universities for study.

Mr. Rae began his journey of exploration with us with the Northwest Passage, proceeded to Antarctica, and on to Africa; his description of the search for the head of Nile River was fascinating.  He then turned to Henry Shackleford and exploration of the South Pole and on to Mt. Everest expeditions.

This was an unexpectedly exciting archives visit because of objects and their context through storytelling.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzY5Z20iwbg&list=PL541F7E779D24205F (video of Eugene Rae)

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