The American Geographical Society (AGS) is a 21st century learning society dedicated to the advancement of geographic thinking, knowledge, and understanding across business, government, academe, social sectors, and most importantly with teachers and students. Established in 1851, AGS is the oldest professional geographical organization in the United States. It is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in geographical research and education for over 166 years. The mission of AGS is to advance and promote geography in business, government, science, and education. Our goal is to enhance the nation’s geographic literacy so as to engender sound public policy, national security, and human well-being worldwide. AGS seeks to engage the American public, from its youngest to its oldest citizens, with new and amazing ways to understand and characterize our changing world. The Society maintains its headquarters in New York City.
Humanity has always had a vested interest in exploration. Since our origins, we have sought to discover, chart, and understand the far corners of the Earth. One of the last corners to be well explored was the North Pole, which drew geographers and navigators to map its icy waters. In 1851, AGS was founded with the intention to lead a mission to find and rescue Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, who had been missing for several years. In those first years of existence, AGS was meeting in New York University’s Geographical and Statistical Library, and was originally known as the American Geographical and Statistical Society.
AGS undertook the search for Sir Franklin under the suspicion that he and his crew were still alive and lost in the Arctic ocean. While the search for Sir Franklin was unsuccessful, AGS continued to assist any worthy endeavor to expand and contribute to the field of geography. In 1851, while that initial expedition was underway, a paper was presented in front of the society detailing the possible routes and implications of creating a railway system spanning the contiguous United States. This was the beginning of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad, on which AGS worked throughout the latter half of the 19th century. In the 1870s, AGS was contacted to assist in creating a proposed shipping lane running through the continent, which would later become the Panama Canal. Two of AGS’s councilors attended a meeting held in Paris in 1879 about the Canal. It was at this time that AGS dropped the words “and Statistical” in its title, and thus became the American Geographical Society.
AGS’s contributions to the world of geography only increased in the 20th Century. During World War I, AGS aided the United States government by compiling information to use in the upcoming Paris Peace Conference. Initial meetings featuring U.S. diplomats were held at AGS’s headquarters. After the Armistice in 1918, AGS Chairman Isaiah Bowman sailed with President Woodrow Wilson to attend the peace talks. After the conclusion of World War I, AGS completed a project entitled “Hispanic America,” which was an attempt to map the entire world at a scale of 1:1,000,000. This process lasted from 1920 through 1945 and resulted in 107 extremely detailed maps being created. During this time, AGS was also indirectly involved in World War II by assisting more than 40 federal agencies with its geographic expertise.
In its current iteration, the AGS is a 21st-century learning society dedicated to the advancement of geographic thinking, knowledge, and understanding. AGS has recently become an integral part of K-12 educational programs designed to teach students about the importance and modern applications of geography. AGS has created curriculums based on its publication FOCUS to be used by geography teachers country-wide. In addition to this, AGS has continued to publish its peer-reviewed journal the Geographical Review, which has been in continuous publication, albeit under several names, since AGS’s inception in 1851. As dedicated as AGS is to the history and present of our planet, it is also invested in the future. Since 2014, AGS has organized and hosted the Geography2050 Symposium, which brings together the brightest minds in geography, business, and education from around the world to discuss ways to secure a successful and sustainable future. From its long past into its hopeful future, AGS will continue striven to be a leading figure in a world dominated by geography.
Christopher Tucker, Chairman
John Gould, Chairman Emeritus
Marie Price, President
Jerome Dobson, President Emeritus
William Doyle, President Emeritus
Alexander Murphy, Senior Vice President
Deborah Popper, Vice President
John Gould, Treasurer
John Noble Wilford, Secretary