Royal Geographical Society

The world was opening up, explorers were gaining ground, and the British crown was claiming more and more land. Not only did this new territory have to be mapped and surveyed and its inhabitants interviewed and learned about, but the new borders to be imposed would have to help Britain maintain and defend this new territory. An organization that could do all of this would be an organization that would and could become increasingly powerful. While some of the work done by the RGS was in good faith and showed a high level of accuracy and ability, much of it was politically influenced and done at the service of political and business interests that were more concerned with profit than geography. Indeed, when a person looks at a map of the globe today and the borders of countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, one often wonders, Why a border there? There is no physical or ethnic reason for it to exist there . . . Many of these borders actually fly in the face of any practical consideration and were created solely for the benefit of others. As such, they continue to this day to create conflict and strife around the world. The RGS contributed to the British imperial ethos of the day.By the mid-19th century lots of places in the world, considered for many years as terra incognito were opening up for the first time. Explorers such as Stanley and Livingstone were for the first time making inroads into the interior of Africa. British citizens were present in India and had substantial roles in the various courts there. Britain had significant interests in the Middle East. Britain’s economy, more than ever before was linked to the world’s. Britain relied on its colonies and the new lands being discovered for a great deal of its wealth—and as such, it wanted to keep control not only of these colonies and lands but of trade links that led to them.There were constant threats. Threats came not only from restless natives who were very resentful of being dominated by British soldiers and bureaucrats but also from imperial rivals such as France and Germany. Everyone was trying to carve out a portion of the new land and to create various spheres of influence over which they would have dominion.