This year we recognised 21 individuals for their extraordinary achievements and contributions to geography at the prestigious annual awards ceremony hosted by Society President, Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, in the Ondaatje Theatre.
Professor Trevor Barnes received the 2019 Founder’s Medal for pioneering developments in the field of economic geography. As Baroness Chalker pointed out, ‘Professor Barnes is not only an outstanding geographer, he is also someone who nurtures the discipline and his books, articles and edited volumes have transformed the understanding of geography’s history in the 20th century.’
In a moving speech addressed to an audience of award recipients and their families, past Society presidents, and current Fellows and members, Professor Barnes highlighted that it was geography’s diversity that had allowed him to have a career spanning almost four decades. He said, ‘What is wonderful about the discipline of geography is its open-minded enthusiastic encouragement of a varied and diverse disciplinary subject matter and forms of enquiry. It has no single model of a geographer, allowing me to be one. I am thrilled, privileged and humbled that the Society has honoured me with a medal, as it did the very different geographers, David Livingstone and Captain Scott.’
Dame Fiona Reynolds received the Patron’s Medal for her contributions to environmental protection, conservation and the preservation of the British landscape. Baroness Chalker said, ‘One of the most prominent geographers in public life, Dame Fiona has fundamentally shifted the debate on conservation and the environment into new territory for many people in the UK. She has sought to facilitate the widest possible public access to culturally important landscapes while recognising the rights of those who live and work in these locations.’
Dame Fiona was not able to attend the ceremony, so in a pre-recorded speech she commented on the wide range of skills that geography provides: ‘To me, geography is the best discipline of all because it teaches you to think laterally. It connects people and places, physical, social and economic forces, politics and issues ranging from the global to the local. We are lateral thinkers, innovators, solution-finders and good organisers. And so it is geographers who can – and need – to help us find solutions to the future of our planet.’
Dame Fiona was not the only one championing the skills of geographers at the ceremony, Professor David Thomas, who received the Victoria Medal for world leading research into dryland environments and societies, highlighted the need for geographers in today’s changing world. He said, ‘Today, many geographers do not use that word, preferring a more specialist or scientific epithet. I am extraordinarily happy to be called a geographer: the freedom it gives to undertake diverse research and be adventurous, in thought and action, has defined my career. As Michael Palin, Barack Obama and others have said: the world needs the perception and oversight of geographers; perhaps now more than ever given today’s divided, threatened and uncertain world.’
This was published in the August 2019 edition of Geographical magazine
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