Instrument Provision and Geographical Science: The Work of The Royal Geographical Society, 1830–c.1930

Jane Wess, Charles Withers

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This paper examines the Royal Geographical Society's provision and management of scientific instruments to explorers and expeditions in the century following its foundation in 1830. Assessment of the Society's directives concerning appropriate scientific instruments for the conduct of geography reveals the emergence (slow and uneven) of policies concerning the assignment of instruments. From examination of Council minutes and related manuscript sources, the paper documents the numbers of instruments acquired by the Society, by whom used, for what scientific purpose and in which parts of the world. The paper examines the number and chronology of expeditions supported by the Society's instruments, examines the expenditure upon instruments’ repair, and discusses the publications that followed their use in exploration. Correspondence between instrument users and the Society reveals that, on occasion, the use of instruments was adventitious. While geographical knowledge depended upon the use of scientific instruments to measure and to depict the world, geography was not a formally institutionalized survey science as was the case with the Geological Survey or the nation-defining mapping of Ordnance Survey.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNotes and Records of the Royal Society
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2018


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