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"The main idea of the founders of the Society is to draw all the best forces of the Russian land to the study of the native land and people living on it"

Petr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky

The Russian Geographical Society was founded by the order of Emperor Nicholas I in 1845. The idea of the Society was created by Admiral Fedor Petrovich Litke, the mentor of the future first President of the Russian Geographical Society, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich. The main aim of the new organization was to collect and to guide the best young Russian forces to a comprehensive study of the native land. 

There were famous sailors, such as the Admirals Fedor Petrovich Litke, Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenshtern, Ferdinand Petrovich Vrangel, Petr Ivanovich Rikord; the members of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences naturalist Karl Maksimovich Ber, astronomer Vasily Yakovlevich Struve, geologist Grigorii Petrovich Gelmersen, and statistician Peter Ivanovich Keppen; famous military leaders (former and current officers of the General Headquarters): a general-quartermaster Fedor Fedorovich Berg, a geodesist Mikhail Pavlovich Vronchenko, statesman Mikhail Muravyov; representatives of the Russian intelligentsia: a linguist Vladimir Ivanovich Dal and a philanthropist, duke Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevsky, among the founders of the Russian Geographical Society.

A famous geographer, traveller and statesman Petr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky described the essence of the Russian Geographical Society in such way: «It is the free corporation that is open for people who love their homeland and have indestructible belief in future of Russia and the Russians».

Since the moment of foundation the Russian Geographical Society has not stopped its activities, however, the name of the organization was changed several times: it had name the Russian Geographical Society – in 1845-1850, 1917-1926, and from 1992 until now; the name of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society in 1850-1917, the State Geographical Society in 1926-1938, the Geographical Society of the USSR  or all-Union Geographical Society in 1938-1992.

In different years the Russian Geographical Society was managed by members of the Imperial house of Romanov, famous travelers, explorers and statesmen. Presidents of the Russian Geographical Society were the following: Grand Dukes Konstantin Nikolaevich (1845-1892) and Nikolai Mikhailovich (1892-1917); and the Vice-presidents of the Socety were the following: Fedor Petrovich Litke (1845-1850, 1857-1872), Mikhail Muravyov (1850-1856), Petr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky (1873-1914), Yuli Mikhailovich Shokalski (1914-1917), in 1917-1931 was Chairman of the Society. Since 1931 the Society was headed Presidents: Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov (1931-1940), Lev Semenovich Berg (1940-1950), Eugeny Nikanorovich Pavlovsky (1952-1964), Stanislav Vikentyevich Kalesnik (1964-1977), Alexei Fedorovich Treshnikov (1977-1991), Sergey Borisovich Lavrov (1991-2000), Yuri Petrovich Seliverstov (2000-2002), Anatoly Alexandrovich Komaritsyn(2002-2009), Sergey Kugugetovich Shoigu (2009 – present).

The Russian Geographical Society has made a significant contribution to the study of European Russia, the Urals, Siberia, Far East, Middle and Central Asia, the Caucasus, Iran, India, New Guinea, the Arctic countries and other territories. These studies are connected with the names of famous explorers such as Nikolai Alekseevich Severtsov, Ivan Vasilievich Mushketov, Nikolay Przhevalsky, Grigory Nikolaevich Potanin, Mikhail Vasilievich Pevtsov, Grigori and Mikhail Efimovich Grumm-Grzhimailo, Petr Petrovich Semenov-Tian-Shansky, Vladimir Afanasyevich Obruchev, Petr Kuzmich Kozlov, Nikolay Nikolaevich Miklukho-Maklay, Alexander Ivanovich Voeykov, Lev Semenovich Berg, and a lot of others.


A map compiled by N.N. Miklouho-Maclay
A map compiled by N.N. Miklouho-Maclay

Besides, another important tradition of the Russian Geographical Society is the relationship with the Russian Navy and sea expeditions.

The famous marine researchers such as Petr Fedorovich Anzhu, Vasily Stepanovich Zavoiko, Lavrenty Alekseyevich Zagoskin, Platon Yuryevich Lisyansky, Fedor Fedorovich Matyushkin, Gennady Ivanovich Nevelskoy, Konstantin Nikolayevich Posyet, Stepan Osipovich Makarov were in the staff of the Society.

In the Russian Empire members of foreign Royal families (for example, a friend of Petr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky, the Belgian king Leopold the Second, Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid, Prince Albert), well-known foreign researchers and geographers (Baron Ferdinand Richtgofen, Roald Amundsen, Fritiof Nansen and others) were elected the honorary members of the Russian Geographical Society.

Merchant Platon Vasilievich Golubkov, a tobacco manufacturer Vasily Grigorievich Zhukov (one of the most prestigious awards of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society – Zhukovskaya – was called in honor of him) were the biggest philanthropists, who gave a lot of money for the activities of the Society. Gold miners Sibiryakovs, who financed expeditions and educational projects, took a special place in circle of patrons of the Russian Geographical Society.

In 1851 the first two of the regional branches of the Russian Geographical Society: the Caucasian in Tbilisi and Siberian in Irkutsk were opened.

Then Orenburg branch, the North-West branch in Vilna, the South-West branch in Kiev, Western Siberia branch in Omsk, Amur branch in Khabarovsk, Turkestan branch in Tashkent were created. They were making extensive researches in their regions. In 1917 the Imperial Russian geographical society included 11 divisions (including the headquarters in St. Petersburg), two subdivision and four branches.

In Soviet times work of the Society changed. The Russian Geographical Society focused on a relatively small, but deep and comprehensive regional studies and large theoretical summarization.

It has expanded the geography of regional offices: as of 1989-1992 in the Geographical Society of the USSR there worked Central branch (in Leningrad) and 14 national offices. In the RSFSR there were 18 branches, two offices and 78 departments. The geography of regional offices was expanded: in 1989-1992 the Central branch (in Leningrad) and 14 republican offices worked in the Geographical Society of the USSR. In the RSFSR there were 18 branches, two offices and 78 divisions of the Society.

The Russian Geographical Society laid the foundations of Russian nature reservation, the ideas of the first Russian specially protected natural areas appeared in the Permanent Environmental Commission of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society (a creator of the commission was the academician Ivan Parfenovich Borodin).

The most important event was the creation of the Permanent Commission of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society for the study of the Arctic. The results of this work were world famous Chukotka, Yakutia and the Kola expeditions. The great scientist Dmitri Mendeleev, who devised several projects for the development and exploration of the Arctic, was interested in a report about one of the Arctic expeditions of the Society.

The Russian Geographical Society was one of the organizers and participants of the first International polar year, during this year the autonomous polar station at the mouth of the Lena River and on the New Land were created.

In 1918 the first in the world geographic university – Geographic Institute – was created with help of the Society. In 1919 one of the most eminent members of the Society Veniamin Petrovich Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky founded the first Russian geographical Museum; in the heyday of this museum its collection took the third place in Russia after the Hermitage and the Russian Museum.

In the Soviet period the Society actively developed new spheres that were connected with popularization of geographical knowledge. The Shokalski lecture hall began to work.

In November 2009 Sergey Shoygu was elected the President of the Russian Geographical Society, the Board of Trustees of respectable participants was formed, the President of Russia Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin became the chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Today the Russian Geographical Society includes more than 25,000 members in Russia and abroad. Regional branches are opened in all 85 regions of the Russian Federation.

The main areas of activities of the Russian Geographical Society are expeditions, researches, education, enlightenment, conservancy, publications of books and work with youth.

The Russian Geographical Society is a nonprofit organization that does not receive government financing.