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Armchair geography: speculation, synthesis and the British culture of exploration

RGS-IBG - Natalie Cox (September 2012 start; University of Warwick: PI Dr David Lambert)

Picture Library » Image: Captain Richard F. Burton (1821-1890), reference S0014192Armchair geographers, an under-appreciated group of British and Irish authors and critics, spoke, wrote, theorised and produced maps about the non-European world based not on their own observations, but using a combination of the collation, interpretation and synthesis of existing sources. Active in contemporary geographical controversies centred on RGS-IBG but with wider public resonance, they often criticised – sometimes quite rightly – the claims of contemporary explorers such as David Livingstone, Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke. Victorian armchair geography has continuing resonance in present-day debates about field science, expeditionary activity and academic knowledge (such as the notion that expeditionary research in the ‘field’ is superior to that stemming from the ‘ivory tower’).

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