Hidden Histories of Exploration: Exhibiting Geographical Collections

This project considers the role played by indigenous peoples and intermediaries in the history of exploration, as revealed by research in the collections of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). The project is particularly concerned with the roles of guides, porters, pilots, cooks, carriers, interpreters, go-betweens and informants in the creation of geographical knowledge. In wider terms, it seeks to provide a model for new ways of working with well-established geographical collections. The main output is an exhibition, held at the RGS-IBG in 2009, and an accessible website at www.rgs.org/hiddenhistories which includes all exhibition images, a full calalogue linked into the RGS-IBG collections, alongside significant additional research resources. There is also a full-colour companion volume published by Royal Holloway in collaboration with the RGS-IBG.

The formal project objectives were (1) To support the production and dissemination of new research on the role of indigenous peoples in voyages of exploration, by means of scholarly investigations into the RGS-IBG collections; (2) To stimulate new ways of thinking about collections relating to travel, discovery and exploration which have practical applications for educational, exhibition and new audience programmes; (3) To highlight and investigate the challenges posed by the aim to read major metropolitan historical collections 'against the grain', and to explore ways of telling less familiar stories through and about these collections; (4) To provide electronic resources which will be of use in RGS-IBG research and outreach programmes, principally by means of an online exhibition on the Society's website.


Principal investigator
Professor Felix Driver
Principal project staff
Professor Felix Driver
Start date
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Completion date
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Source material
The project research ranged across the RGS-IBG collections which are of world historical significance. Materials included manuscripts; printed books, journals and ephemera; engravings,drawings and paintings in watercolour and oils; manuscript and printed maps; original photographs in various formats; artefacts; documentary film.
Data formats

F Driver & L Jones, Hidden Histories of Exploration: Researching Geographical Collections (RGS-IBG/Royal Holloway, 2009).

F Driver & L Jones, ‘Hidden histories? Local knowledge & indigenous agency in the history of geographical exploration’, Proceedings of the 14th International Conference of Historical Geographers, Kyoto (2010).