"Our Field is the World". Geographical Societies in International Comparison, 1821-1914.

Ute Wardenga (SFB 1199 & IfL), Maximilian Georg (IfL)

Publication Date

May 2020






Book Chapter

Edited Volume

Decolonising and Internationalising Geography: Essays in the History of Contested Science


Bruno Schelhaas, Federico Ferretti, André Reyes Novaes and Marcella Schmidt di Friedberg



Additional Information


As associations for the promotion and dissemination of geographical knowledge, Geographical Societies were the institutional basis of geography for the larger part of the “long” nineteenth century. Before 1914, up to 170 such Societies existed in all inhabited continents. Most historiographical research has focused on Geographical Societies in capital cities and/or dealt with them as being inside the “containers” of their respective nation-states, and as if they existed and operated in independence and isolation from one another. By contrast, in a research project launched in 2015/16 at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (IfL), Leipzig, within the framework of the Leipzig Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1199 “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition”, we seek to identify connections and draw comparisons among 34 Geographical Societies from all continents and of 13 languages, including Societies from minor cities and countries. Our data comes from the Societies’ yearly journals, which we record with a standardized method that we have developed. From a Society’s proceedings, we gather, rather qualitatively, its organizational structure including its networking with other Geographical Societies; from the geographical articles in its journal, we gather, rather quantitatively through codes, the Society’s subjects (e.g. “physical geography”: “geology”; or “human geography”: “economy”), and world areas (e.g. “Africa, West”, or “Polar Regions, South”) of interest. For each Society, we thus obtain a profile reflecting its structure, activities, interests and evolution. Each profile may be explained by the Society’s local and historical context (e.g. French colonialism; Czech nationalism), and further understood through the theoretical concepts of our Collaborative Research Centre: each Society “spatialized” the world into certain “spatial formats”, which then made up a certain “spatial order”. By negotiating modes of dealing with a globalized world, the Geographical Societies thus contributed to the professionalization of geography.

Biographical Note

Ute Wardenga (SFB 1199 & Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde, Leipzig, Germany)

Ute Wardenga is an honorary professor of global studies at Leipzig University (Germany) and serves on the executive boards of the Centre for Area Studies and the Graduate School Global and Area Studies. Since 2012, she has been the deputy director of the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography in Leipzig where she coordinates the research group “History and Geography”. Ute Wardenga’s current research interests focus on geography as a space-related practice in the process of globalization and in this regard leads the SFB project C1, which compares international histories of geographical societies since the early 19th century. Most recently, she has co-directed the research project entitled “Digital Atlas of Geopolitical Imaginaries of Eastern Central Europe”, which explored the impact of cartographic and mass media representations of space in Eastern Central Europe since 1989.

Maximilian Georg (Leibniz-Insititut für Länderkunde, Leipzig, Germany)

Maximilian Georg is since 2013 a researcher at IfL in Leipzig with the research area of Historical Geography. He studied European Cultures with focus on History in Luxembourg and France. From 2013 until 2021 he made his PhD at the Graduate School “Global and Area Studies” at Leipzig University. His main focus is now lying on global History and History of Geography.