Royal Scottish Geographical Society

Royal Scottish Geographical Society
Formation 1884
Purpose Educational
Queen Elizabeth II
Iain Stewart
HRH The Princess Royal
Professor Roger Crofts

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) is a learned society and educational charity founded in 1884 and based in Perth. The Society has a membership of 2500 and aims to advance the science of geography worldwide by supporting education, research, expeditions, through its journal (the Scottish Geographical Journal), its newsletter (The Geographer) and other publications.[1]

The Society operates thirteen regional centres across Scotland which are the focus for a programme of around one hundred illustrated talks annually, at Aberdeen, Ayr, Dumfries, Dundee, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Scottish Borders, Glasgow, Inverness, Kirkcaldy, Perth and Stirling. The Society also provides a service intended to answer geographical queries about Scotland and beyond.

The RSGS provides a uniquely Scottish flavour, with particular interests in working with Scottish Universities and educators in developing the discipline worldwide.

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society Library is held and maintained by the University of Strathclyde and the Society also holds a significant map and photography collections (at least 200,000 items), together with a substantial archive dating back to its foundation, all of which are subject to a Heritage Lottery-funded project called Images for All which aims to record, list online and to broaden access to this material.

Housed within the Lord John Murray House in Perth, the Society was formerly based in the University of Strathclyde (1994–2008) and before that had in its own premises at 10 Randolph Crescent in Edinburgh.


The originator of the idea for a national society of geography in Scotland was John George Bartholomew, of the Bartholomew map-making company in Edinburgh. Bartholomew felt that there was a low quality of map craftsmanship within Britain and a lack of geographical societies as compared with the rest of Europe, and set out to investigate the situation in other countries, particularly in Germany. As a result of this he began work in establishing a geographical society for Scotland.

Bartholomew was assisted by Mrs A.L. Bruce, the daughter of the explorer David Livingstone. She herself was a keen geographer, with a particular interest in Africa. They sought the support of Professor James Geikie, Professor of Geology at the University of Edinburgh. Geikie had a keen interest in the advancement in geographical research and teaching, willingly giving his support to the project, and in December 1884 The Scottish Geographical Society (S.G.S.) was established. Recruiting members from many of Edinburgh's most prominent men and women, the Society managed to establish support from influential quarters. The S.G.S. encouraged members from scientific and academic backgrounds, providing a broad yet intellectual emphasis to its aims, as well as members of the general public, who joined more through interest or knowledge of the new discoveries than from any real interest in their own country.

The aims of the Society were diverse, yet exploration was seen as having less emphasis than research and education. The first edition of the Scottish Geographical Magazine stated: –

"... it is therefore one of the first objectives of the Scottish Geographical Society to advance the study of geography in Scotland: to impress the public with the necessity and inestimable value of a thorough knowledge of geography in a commercial, scientific or political education."

The SGS concentrated on education and research, against a backdrop interest in exploration and discovery, and the gathering together and dissemination of information from such activities. The SGS was founded at that point in the nineteenth century when the scientific climate prevailing in Scotland, and in particular Edinburgh, influenced the direction of the Society's goals and activities. With many academics as members, education and research were important issues to the Society.

At that time Edinburgh was the focus of geography within Scotland, with an active and lively scientific community from within which the seeds of a more balanced and scientific approach to geography would emerge. Yet, within a year of its foundation, the Scottish Geographical Society had established branches in Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow to cater for the strong local interest and active participation in its work.[2]

Chief amongst the RSGS's early achievements were its support for the quietly successful Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902–04), and the establishment of Scotland's first professorial chair in Geography, at the University of Edinburgh.


Membership of RSGS is open to all, regardless of geographical location. Members are entitled to free attendance at most Royal Scottish Geographical Society Illustrated Talks, which are held at RSGS Regional Centres throughout Scotland. Members receive the Scottish Geographical Journal, the Society's learned periodical, and The Geographer, the Society's quarterly members magazine, free of charge, and are entitled to use the Society's research collections, including its library, from which books may be borrowed, and its map and photograph collections, which may be consulted by prior arrangement with the Curator. Other benefits include excursions and field trips, travel offers and competitions.

There are eight categories of membership:

Fellows of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (FRSGS)

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

See List of Honorary Fellows and List of Fellows.

The First Honorary Fellows 1888

Presidents of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society

Medals and awards

The Society awards a number of prestigious medals for outstanding contributions to geography and exploration.

Past Awards


The Society introduced a new logo in September 2013, debuting in the Autumn 2013 issue of their magazine, The Geographer.

With four component parts, the RSGS logo has references to the Society's collection and historical geography (old map and compass), environment and nature (leaves), human geography (people), and physical geography (pebbles). The logo also has a sense of depth and perspective, again subtle reminders of the value of geographical thinking.

See also


  1. "Royal Scottish Geographical Society". Retrieved 25 July 2007.
  2. Scotland as the Cradle of Modern Academic Geography in Britain by Elspeth N. Lochhead (Scottish Geographical Magazine vol.97 no.2 (September 1981) p.98-109)
  3. William Gordon Burn Murdoch, Geoff Swinney, National Museums Scotland, retrieved 3 December 2013
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