Geography in Print: The Geographical Journal and the production and dissemination of geographic knowledge, 1830–1900

Benjamin Newman
Royal Holloway, University of London & Royal Geographical Society

Since its establishment in 1830, the Royal Geographical Society has
fostered and maintained an emphasis on print as a medium for the
communication of geographical knowledge. Whilst geography’s printed
books and maps have come under considerable scholarly scrutiny, the
role of periodical publication in the production and dissemination of
geographical knowledge has been poorly understood. The publication
history of The Geographical Journal—the Royal Geographical
Society’s first printed journal—offers an unique opportunity,
therefore, to consider the role of periodical publishing in
geography’s print culture. That the history of the Society and its
journal are coeval, and intimately related, is testified to by the
objectives set out in the Society’s founding prospectus. One
principal objective was simultaneously democratic and textual, being
“To collect, register, and digest, and to print for the use of the
Members, and the public at large, in a cheap form and at certain
intervals, such new, interesting, and useful facts and discoveries as
the Society may have in its possession, and may, from time to time,
acquire”. Defined thus, the Society was founded on the desire to
disseminate geographical knowledge through print, and, specifically,
through an affordable and regular periodical. It would be hard to
overestimate the important contribution that the journal has made to
British geography.

This paper will examine the complex networks utilised by the Royal
Geographical Society in both the production of printed geographical
knowledge and its sites of circulation, exchange, and reception. I aim
to demonstrate how the Society’s internal systems—and negotiations
between its council, secretary (acting as editor), publisher (John
Murray), and printer (William Clowes)—influenced the physical form
of the journal and hence the spaces in which it circulated. Such
assertions are based upon my first year PhD research, and I hope to
convey the lively debates which epitomise the early years of the
journal’s history. In examining the establishment, rationale, and
operation of The Geographical Journal, I reflect on the significance
of the periodical as a site and as a means for the making of
geographical knowledge.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900