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A Holiday Ode To Mapping

A founding member of the Geological Society of London, George Bellas Greenough also held the highest office in the Royal Geographical Society for two years in the mid-nineteenth century. In his presidential address to the professional body in May 1840, he offered his thoughts on the indispensability of maps. Given my own fondness for atlases, I’m posting an excerpt from his speech today:

Of all the contrivances hitherto devised for the benefit of geography, this [the map] is the most effective. In the extent and variety of its resources, in rapidity of utterance, in the copiousness and completeness of the information it communicates, in precision, conciseness, perspicuity, in the hold it has upon the memory, in vividness of imagery and power of expression, in convenience of reference, in portability, in the happy combination of so many and such useful qualities, a map has no rival. Everything we say or do has reference to place: and wherever place is concerned a map deserves welcome. There is scarcely one department of knowledge; physical or moral, beyond the sphere of its usefulness.

Honestly, I couldn’t agree more.


Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.

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