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National Geographic Society

  • By: Jennifer Mapes
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

The National Geographic Society has a wide-ranging impact on how Americans—and the world—understand geography, tying its mission of diffusing geographic knowledge to human fascination with exploration, travel, and adventure. The society both represents and shapes cultural understandings of geography in the United States.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Geographic Society was founded in 1888, in an era of “explorers’ clubs,” with 33 original members that included geologists, bankers, explorers, and meteorologists. Gilbert Grosvenor, the magazine's first editor, is credited with transforming the magazine from a jargon-ridden technical review to the colorful publication it is today. Under Grosve-nor's reign, National Geographic found its footing in eyewitness, photograph-heavy accounts of faraway places. Society projects have included research by Louis and Mary Leakey on the origins of humans in Africa, ...

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