University of Cambridge > > Cabinet of Natural History > From 'clap-trap and flummery' to 'scope and methods' – the Royal Geographical Society's lantern-slide lectures, c.1886–1924

From 'clap-trap and flummery' to 'scope and methods' – the Royal Geographical Society's lantern-slide lectures, c.1886–1924

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Founded in 1830, the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) was conceived to promote ‘that most important and entertaining branch of knowledge, geography’. Across the 19th century the RGS attempted to hold within its centre a diverse demographic of practitioners of science, explorers and audiences eager for ‘red hot tales of adventure’. From the pre-magic lantern era to the provision of instruction in photography in 1886, the subsequent authorization of the much-debated medium of the lantern, and diversification of lecture practices, this talk traces some of the multiple registers in which geographical knowledge was communicated. In order to bring to light the ‘overlooked images’ and ‘suspended conversations’ of the RGS lantern-slide lectures, I outline three case studies of lantern-slide lectures given by Halford Mackinder, Vaughan Cornish and Julia Henshaw. These examples, I argue, illustrate the RGS ’s tailoring of geographical knowledge to the audiences of its own Fellowship, practitioners of science and children. I demonstrate that the RGS lantern-slide lectures were ‘threshold’ sites through which geographical knowledge and practices, a spectrum of sciences and diverse RGS communities circulated. I suggest that the synergy of the perceived effects of lantern projections and the spoken word were a galvanizing force that expanded the geographical imaginary. In doing so I bring to light the Society’s history as centripete and centrifuge of individuals and ideas, and science and culture.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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