BLOG 31st OCTOBER 2009
Last week I was privileged to be invited to a special behind-the scenes event at the Royal Geographical Society. Founded in 1830, the Royal Geographical Society is a world centre for geography. It supports research, education, expeditions and fieldwork, and promotes public engagement and informed enjoyment of our world. It is the largest and most active scholarly geographical society in the world, and it has just welcomed its new President, the well known traveller, broadcaster and ex-Python, Michael Palin.
The evening started with an introduction to the Society by Director, Dr. Rita Gardner, CBE and an overview of the Society’s current activities. We then toured the building at 1 Kensington Gore and had a private view of a selection of the Society’s rich collection of iconic items reflecting the history of travel and exploration. This included a range of items relating to the African expeditions of Livingstone and Stanley including the compass the Society lent to Livingstone for his travels, his watercolour of Lake Victoria with his musings on the source of the Nile together with the hats that he and Stanley wore on their legendary first meeting. For me this was an extraordinary coincidence as I had just finished reading Tim Jeal’s excellent biography of Henry Morton Stanley, one of the most famous people in the world at that time.
Another piece of headgear on view was Shackleton’s Burberry helmet and other artefacts from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. I particularly liked a map of Arabia beautifully drawn by T.E. Lawrence with the handwritten instruction “Do not destroy as this is only copy.”
We also saw highlights from the Society’s collection of over 1 million maps: the world’s largest private collection. These ranged from a remarkably accurate atlas dating from 1471 but based on Ptolemy’s 3rd Century BC’s mapping to the maps of London the Luftwaffe used to plan and execute their bombing raids. They also have the maps the Third Reich had of its plans for post war London. I wanted to ask if they included any good ideas!
The Society is located on the corner of Exhibition Road and Kensington Gore known to cabbies as Hot & Cold corner because on one axis stands a statue of Livingstone and round the corner is one of Shackleton. Down Exhibition Road the culture tourist can find the Royal College of Music, the Imperial College of Science and Technology, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal College of Art, and next door on Kensington Gore the Royal Albert Hall. This unparalleled collection of cultural centres attracts 26 million visitors annually, the greatest attraction of its kind in the world. However, to date these august institutions have not been known to collaborate and exploit this opportunity still further. That is planned to change as part of the Olympic celebration in 2012. Exhibition Road will be reduced to a two-lane thoroughfare with a 20-mile per hour speed limit allowing it to become a virtual pedestrian precinct. Joint marketing will be encouraged.
Before that in 2010 there are plans to create an exciting new Street Gallery exhibition, "Britain From The Air," based on 100 aerial photographs of the UK, that will be designed to portray this marvellous country of ours and engage with the public as it tours the country to stimulate, educate and inspire a greater sense of National pride. This exhibition is based on the “Earth From the Air” exhibition that my wife and I were delighted to see in Bath this past summer. This had a strong link to Climate Change and according to David Lawrence, Divisional Director, Tourism, Leisure & Culture for Bath & North East Somerset Council created much public interest:
• Forming the focal point for a number of local initiatives stimulating interest in environmental, cultural and social issues.
• Providing the background against which the Council’s carbon reduction charter was launched.
• Creating a backcloth against which 3 science conferences took place in partnership with local Universities.
• Encouraging visitors into areas of the city that are usually much less busy resulting in an increase in footfall.
• Increasing dwell time with both residents and visitors spending considerably longer in the city as they studied the images.
• Organizing public events in the civic and ecclesiastical buildings.
I believe “Britain From The Air” has the potential to encourage everyone to enjoy and explore Britain’s wonderful natural and man-made landscapes; see our changing environments and society from different perspectives; and think about the way we all shape our landscapes.
If anyone reading this is interested in becoming a major sponsor of this exciting event I suggest you contact the organizers directly:
Alasdair Macleod, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG): firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Phillips, Wecommunic8: PeterPhillips@wecommunic8.com
After the presentations I enjoyed a drink with Dr Gardner debating whether Geography is an Art or a Science. We both agreed it is both which is interesting because the Government classifies it as a Science so it can boost the numbers of students studying STEM subjects at University. The Government is due to make an announcement on its Higher Education strategy next week and I expect it to include something to stimulate the numbers of STEM students.
Copyright David C Pearson 2009 All rights reserved