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Project information

Project team

Ute Wardenga, Dirk Hänsgen, Maximilian Georg, Ninja Steinbach-Hüther, Maximilian Stintzing, Philipp Meyer


University of Leipzig

Duration of project

01/2016 – 12/2019

Funded by

German Research Foundation (SFB 1199)

Further information

Prof. Dr. Ute Wardenga
Tel. +49 341 600 55-110

SFB 1199

“Our Field is the World”: Geographical Societies 1821–1914 in International Comparison

Project C1 – Collaborative Research Centre: Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition (SFB 1199)

Since their beginnings and especially in the “long” 19th century, Geographical Societies played an important intermediary role between science and the public: they organised and supported expeditions, published research results in their journals, and reached a wide audience with their talks and exhibitions. However, reports from hitherto unknown world regions did not only convey space-related factual knowledge. They also fired the imagination of readers and listeners, and helped new, ”more global” notions of the world and its spatial orders develop, spread, and gain acceptance.

The project examines how and why different types of Geographical Societies contributed to the configuration of new spatial formats and the establishment of spatial orders. In contrast to previous research, we assume that from the mid-19th century at the latest, Geographical Societies all over the world influenced the way in which space-related knowledge was gained and conveyed. They set, so to speak, international standards, while at the same time “individual” differences emerged, according to Societies’ specifics.


In the first phase of SFB 1199 we have, for the period from 1821 to 1914, comparatively examined over 30 Geographical Societies, located in Europe, the Americas, Asia, North Africa and Australia, with regard to their general structures and activities as well as mutual networks. For this purpose, we have developed a coding scheme for the quantitative and qualitative analysis of the Societies’ journals, from which we have so far recorded over 60,000 data sets. As a result, we have identified (1) structural characteristics of individual Societies, (2) extensive transnational interconnections and exchanges, and (3) significant thematic and regional focuses.

In many places, Geographical Societies turned out to have decisively determined the emergence of new logics of spatialization informed by the natural sciences. Those logics became the basis not only of spaces’ formatting (e.g. as nation-state, region, or imperial extension), but also of new spatial orders on a global scale. After all, Geographical Societies constituted, for the bourgeoisie involved in them, powerful fora in which to gain orientation and interpretative sovereignty during the confusing transition towards the ultimate establishment of the global condition.


Steinbach-Hüther, Ninja / Hänsgen, Dirk / Efer, Thomas / Wardenga, Ute (2019): Geographiegeschichtsschreibung und Digital Humanities. Neue Methoden für Zeitschriftenanalysen. Leipzig: Universitätsverlag Leipzig. 30 p. (Working paper series des SFB 1199 an der Universität Leipzig; 15)

Wardenga, Ute (2019): Geographische Gesellschaften als Pioniere nationaler und kolonialer Raumordnungen. In: Geographische Rundschau 71 (5), p. 10–14

Wardenga, Ute (2019): Von der Länderkunde zu Regionalen Geographien. In: Geographische Rundschau 71 (1/2), p. 46–51

Wardenga, Ute / Möhring, Maren / Pisarz-Ramirez, Gabriele (2019): Imaginationen. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, (Dialektik des Globalen. Kernbegriffe; 5)