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Manchester Geographical Society Collection

Date range: 17th-20th centuries

Number of items: 4,200 items.

The Manchester Geographical Society was one of the most important provincial geographical societies in Britain, in its heyday rivalling the Royal Geographical Society of London. The Society was founded in 1884, stimulated by the commercial opportunities being created by the 'opening up’ of Africa. It was recognized that full exploitation of the new markets by British industry and commerce depended upon the dissemination of geographical knowledge. The Society grew rapidly, and likewise its library, which was eventually transferred to the University of Manchester Library on permanent loan in 1970.

The collection comprises 200 atlases and 2,000 printed books, of which 250 pre-date 1850. It also includes almost 2,000 uncatalogued maps.

The atlases range from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century, and include fine examples of 18th-century French cartography, 19th-century English atlases, and more recent specialist atlases. Many of the earlier atlases are richly decorated and hand-coloured. The high number of maritime charts reflect Britain’s dominance of the seas.

The book section includes a number of 17th-century items which illustrate significant landmarks in the history of cartography and chorography. Many of the books date from the late 19th century and illustrate both the spirit of the late Victorian imperialist enterprise and its geographical interests. A high proportion of the more modern books relate to Africa and Asia, many containing descriptions of original exploration. A large number of works also describe Polar exploration, reflecting the period of the Society’s expansion.

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