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Terra incognita: women on Royal Geographical Society-supported expeditions, 1913-1970

RGS-IBG - Sarah Evans (September 2010 start; University of the West of England: PI Dr Avril Maddrell)

Phyllis Wager’s boots from the 1935-36 British East Greenland Expedition (Artefact G 25b)An investigation of women's participation in Royal Geographical Society -supported expeditions between 1913 and 1970, focusing on the unique expedition archives of the RGS-IBG. The project was completed in 2015 (the thesis was examined in late 2014, having been submitted within 4 years of the start date).

Women’s expeditionary work, in common with women’s geographical work more broadly, has been comparatively understudied within the history of geographical thought and practice, and within the wider discipline, until relatively recently. 

The project charts this terra incognita, and presents a reconstructed historical geography of women’s participation in RGS-supported expeditions between 1913 and 1970, taking as its start date the permanent admission of women to the Fellowship of the RGS. Building on earlier substantive feminist research into women’s historic geographical and expeditionary work, it presents a systematic survey of all applications for RGS support during this period, drawing on a range of sources from across the RGS archives and collections.

Drawing on these original findings, and on the extensive literatures around feminist historical geography, feminist epistemologies, the historiography of geographical thought and practice, as well as the recent literature on mobilities, this thesis investigates how women negotiated the networks in, around, and beyond the RGS to gain support for their expeditionary work. In particular, it highlights the importance of women-focused networks and familial-social networks for gaining this support. It also uses their participation in and embodied experiences of RGS-supported expeditions, including their expeditionary (im)mobilities and expeditionary relationships, to complicate existing understandings of expeditions as a male-dominated space, form, and practice of geographical knowledge production, thereby investigating the relationships between gender, subjectivity, and expeditionary knowledge production. Finally, it considers the dissemination and reception of their expeditionary knowledges within the spaces of the RGS.

Find out more

  • A printed copy of this thesis will shortly be available for consultation in the Foyle Reading Room. An electronic copy can be accessed through the University of the West of England's Research Repository here.
  • Sarah presented on her research at the Revealing Lives: Women in Science 1830-2000 conference in 2014, organised by the Women In Science Research Network. Her presentation may be viewed online here.

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