Rewarding Geography

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'Just because we have an ever-increasing amount of knowledge of our world doesn't mean that we no longer need a discipline that makes sense of it all, and under whose broad umbrella we can unite all of the elements of that knowledge,' Society president Michael Palin said of geography at the Society's annual general meeting this summer. And celebrating that diversity--from historical geography to cinematography and from excellence in teaching to travel writing--the medals and awards given that day demonstrate just how all-encompassing geography is in 2011.

Each year, the Society makes a number of special awards that recognise achievements in geographical research, fieldwork, exploration, teaching and photography, and in bringing geography to new audiences. The Society's two gold medals, approved each year by Her Majesty the Queen, are among the world's highest honours for the development and promotion of geography. Awarded since 1832, the medals' recipients--whose names can be found on the medal boards at the Society's headquarters in London--include Robert Falcon Scott (1904), Sir Edmund Hillary (1957), Sir David Attenborough (1985) and Professor Lord Nicholas Stern (2009).

This year, the Royal Medals were awarded to David Livingstone, professor of geography and intellectual history at Queen's University Belfast, who accepted the Founder's Medal for the encouragement, development and promotion of historical geography; and world-renowned ocean scientist Dr Sylvia Earle, who accepted the Patron's Medal for the encouragement, development and promotion of ocean science and exploration.

Having led more than 50 expeditions, logged more than 6,000 hours underwater and, in 1970, set a record for solo diving to a depth of 1,000 metres, Dr Earle has seen a distinguished record of scientific appointments during her career, including chief scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, and founder of Mission Blue and the Sylvia Earle Alliance. …