Committee Minute Book, Orthography Committee, 13 March 1879, 94-95, courtesy of RGS-IBG
Beth Williamson, one of the Society’s Collaborative Doctoral Programme PhD students, is interested in the recording of place names by the Society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her research seeks to understand how the Society, particularly through the Orthography Committee, tackled the problem of ‘orthography’ – establishing a common standard for the spelling of place names.
This autumn, Beth, who is based at Royal Holloway, University of London, has spent time immersed in the Society’s Collections, both in person and digitally via the Wiley Digital Archives. Through the minutes of the Society’s Council and Committee meetings, and correspondence prior to the establishment of the Orthography Committee in 1878, she has found evidence of differences of opinion within the Society as to the best system of orthography, resulting in confusion in maps, gazetteers, and works on geography. Place names were often determined by reviewers or proof readers’ recommendations, which could vary widely. Therefore, to address the uncertainty around the spelling of place names, the Orthography Committee decided that the Society should “lay down rules” so that a uniform system of spelling could be adopted.
The next stage of Beth’s research involves exploring more of the correspondence and journal manuscripts in the Collections, to understand how the Society dealt with orthography prior to 1878. Beth then plans to turn her attention to the lives of the Orthography Committee members, uncovering the expertise and knowledge they brought to the committee, and tracing their lives and work through their correspondence within and beyond the Society. Through this research, she hopes to situate them and their work within wider national and international debates around standardisation taking place at that time.
Find out more about Collaborative Doctoral Programme studentships and other research opportunities related to the Society’s Collections.