Today we visited the Foyle Reading Room of the Royal Geographical Society. RGS is located at the junction of Kensington Gore and Exhibition Road, and each side of the corner bears a statue, one of David Livingstone and the other Ernest Shackleton, explorers of Africa and Antarctica respectively.
The Royal Geographical Society began in 1830 as the Geographical Society of London. Their aim was promoting scientific geography, which at the time meant travel, making maps and exploration. Educating about geography was not an initial goal, and this did not become important until the end of the 19th century. Any information collected was published in the society journal, and the hot topics of the day were discovering the source of the Nile, the Northwest passage, Mount Everest, and the Antarctic.
Today the society is interested in both currently fostering education, research and exploration, as well as preserving the the past of geographical exploration. They hold an incredible collection of over 2 million items, about half of which are maps (the largest private map collection in Europe). There are 2 thousand atlases, the oldest of which is a German atlas from 1490 based on the writings of Ptolemy. Their holdings also include a picture collection of half a million images (about 15 thousand of which have been digitized), books contribute 250 thousand volumes, and there are 1500 artifacts of significance as well. There was a table laid out with some of these artifacts and maps for us to peruse this morning including Livingstone's hat, Shackleton's hood, and boots belonging to Sir Henry Morton Stanley (famous for a line he most likely never said: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?").
There are 8 people on the team operating the RGS library including the head of collections, a picture library manager, and a staff of 6 who work in the reading room. RGS moved to their present location in 1912, the library was added in 1929, and in 2009 the reading room and 2 climate controlled storage areas were added both to make the collection more accessible and improve storage conditions. The space was designed with the specifics of the collection in mind and the reading room was also designed with the input of staff. Details like adding the oversize table we sat at with thoughtfully designed rounded edges so as not to crease large maps were based on staff suggestions.
In addition to learning about the society and the collection, we learned so much about historical explorations and explorers such as Livingstone and Stanley, Shackleton, arctic explorers Sir John Franklin and William Parry as well as mountaineer George Mallory. We had an amazing time soaking in knowledge about these men while in the midst of objects they wore and used while undertaking their famed deeds.
|Copper collar from 1848 (affixed to necks of arctic foxes|
caught and then released in the hopes of finding Franklin)
|Inuit boots brought back by Parry in 1823|
In the spirit of heading my own expedition, I decided this afternoon would be a good time to explore the London Zoo! Okapis, Komodo dragons, pygmy hippos, poison dart frogs, aardvarks... oh my! There were so many awesome animals, over 650 species in fact. The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826, and the London Zoo opened 2 years later (they also have a library founded in 1826 as well!). So much fun meeting all of the creatures who reside here, in Regent's park!