“Our Field is the World”: Geographical Societies 1821–1914 in International Comparison

Project C1 – Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1199: Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition

Celebrated explorers: John Speke and James Grant reporting to the Royal Geographical Society in London about their journey to the sources of the Nile (In: Illustrated London News, 4 July 1863, p. 1)

Since their beginnings and especially in the “long” 19th century, Geographical Societies played an important intermediary role between science and the public: they organised and supported expeditions, published research results in their journals, and reached a wide audience with their talks and exhibitions. Reports from hitherto unknown world regions, though, did not only convey space-related factual knowledge. They also fired the imagination of readers and listeners, and helped new, ”more global” notions of the world and its spatial orders develop, spread, and gain acceptance.

The project examines how and why different types of Geographical Societies contributed to the configuration of new spatial formats and the establishment of spatial orders. In contrast to previous research we assume that from the mid-19th century at the latest Geographical Societies all over the world influenced the way in which space-related knowledge was gained and conveyed. They set, so to speak, international standards, while at the same time “individual” differences emerged, according to Societies’ thematic orientations.

The project therefore consists of two phases. First, by analysing activity profiles, social structures, and patterns and modes of intertwining we develop a new typification, which beyond national paths of evolution subsumes Societies with similar activity profiles and/or specialisations. This then is the basis for two parallel studies on, respectively, the Romanic language area and the German- and English-speaking areas. By means of hermeneutic comparison we shall here show which (imagination-based) strategies and practices different types of Societies developed in order to construct spatial formats and legitimise and disseminate certain spatial orders.


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Project information

Researcher/Research team

Ute Wardenga, Dirk Hänsgen, Maximilian Georg, Ninja Steinbach-Hüther, Maximilian Stintzing, Philipp Meyer


University of Leipzig

Duration of project

01/2016 – 12/2019

Project sponsorship

German Research Foundation (SFB 1199)

Further information

Prof. Dr. Ute Wardenga
Tel. +49 341 600 55-110

SFB 1199

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