From geographical research, fieldwork and teaching to photography and public engagement, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s annual medals and awards celebrate outstanding contributions across the breadth of geography
The Society has recognised excellence in geographical science since its formation in 1830. An annual grant of 50 guineas from the reigning monarch ‘for the encouragement and promotion of geographical science and discovery’ was replaced in 1836 with a Royal Medal. In 1839 this was split into two Royal Medals, both of equal standing: the Founder’s Medal and the Patron’s Medal.
The two Royal Medals are approved by Her Majesty the Queen and are among the highest honours of their kind in the world. This year they were awarded to Professor Sir Gordon Conway and Lindsey Hilsum.
Sir Gordon, a former President of the Society, received the Founder’s Medal for the enhancement and promotion of agricultural development in Asia and Africa. Presenting the award, the Society’s President, Nicholas Crane, said: ‘Professor Sir Gordon Conway is a world leader in international development and one of the world’s foremost experts on food security and the sustainable development of agricultural land. For over 50 years, Sir Gordon has worked to improve the lives of millions through his pioneering research, leadership of major organisations, and advice to government on sustainable development.’
Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor for Channel 4 News, received the Patron’s Medal for promoting the understanding of global conflict and inequality. In her acceptance speech she said: ‘I am honoured to receive a medal that was awarded to the great travellers of the past, like Henry Morton Stanley. How the recipients have changed down the years – from explorers to oceanographers and environmentalists to a journalist – via, for one year only, a rock star. Maybe one day a refugee or migrant will get it, an explorer of the modern age, travelling with neither map nor compass, just in hope.’
In total, 17 individuals and groups were recognised for their outstanding contributions to geography during the ceremony held at the Society’s headquarters in London on 5 June. These included: Harry Hook, who received the Cherry Kearton Medal and Award in recognition of his powerful images reflecting the hopes, fears and aspirations for Africa’s future; Professor David Evans, who received the Busk Medal for his long-standing commitment to introducing successive generations of students to overseas fieldwork and expeditions; and Professor Andrew Cliff who received the Victoria Medal for his insight into a wide range of diseases and how their emergence, eradication and re-emergence are affected by contexts such as conflict, population movement and vaccinations.
Alex Henry received the 2017 Alfred Steers Dissertation Prize for the best undergraduate dissertation for his study of low-level jets of air in the central-western Sahara. ‘I am absolutely delighted to be receiving this award from the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG),’ he said, ‘which marks the culmination of a great deal of hard work over the past few years. The Sahara is a thoroughly under-researched area of climate science, and being able to contribute to our changing view of the region’s climate is both humbling and exciting.’
This was published in the August 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.