Behind the scenes Collections Long read

The Manchester Geographical Society (MGS) Map Cataloguing Project

The Manchester Geographical Society (MGS) was launched on 21st October 1884 with a meeting in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, at which the famous explorer H. M. Stanley gave a lecture. The management of the society was assigned to Eli Sowerbutts, who was the secretary from the foundation of the MGS until his death in 1904. The MGS was known for its lecture series and the publication of a Journal. The society was also instrumental in the appointment of the first Lecturer in Geography at Owens College in 1891, and the first Professor of Geography to be appointed at the University in 1930.


Digitised lantern slides of the MGS from the collection – available to view here

The Manchester Geographical Society (MGS) collection, which was transferred to the University of Manchester Library in 1970, comprises atlases, printed books, lantern slides, archives and also maps. Within this collection, there are around 2000 map-sheets. However, we have very sparse documentation and hardly any information about these maps. The potential within this collection for research and engagement appears to be significant – this can be seen by opening up any of the many plan-chest drawers where the maps reside. From what we have gathered so far, the collection consists of several manuscript maps, various maps of Lancashire, a significant amount of series mapping of Africa and some fine examples of 19th-century and early 20th-century cartographic ephemera. World maps and maps of other continents are also well represented in the collection. In previous years, there have been individual maps picked out and digitised for use in research and engagement, such as the 2016 digitisation project of Japanese Maps and images of the Manchester Ship Canal featured in the book, ‘Manchester: Mapping the City’. However, the bulk of the collection has not yet been explored to its full extent.

Bird’s-Eye view War Map of China, Korea and Japan – with illustrations and Portrait
The Manchester Ship Canal: Manchester Docks traffic arrangements

The MGS Map Cataloguing project, which has generously been funded by the Manchester Geographical Society, will be my focus for the next twelve months. The outcome of this project will be to ensure that the estimated 2000 uncatalogued maps from this collection will be discoverable and accessible to researchers, students and public audiences.

Whilst I am carrying out this project, I will be regularly tweeting under the hashtag #ManGeogSoc and I will continue to write a number of blog posts researching and illustrating the fabulous maps that I am working with.

With thanks to Donna Sherman, Maps Librarian, for her guidance.


M.D. Leigh, “The Manchester Geographical Society, 1884-1979”, Manchester Geographer Journal, 1980.

T.W. Freeman, “The Manchester Geographical Society, 1884-1984”, Manchester Geographer Journal, 1984.

Paul Hindle, “Turmoil and Transition: the Manchester Geographical Society, 1973-1997”, North West Geographer, 2.1, 1998.

2 comments on “The Manchester Geographical Society (MGS) Map Cataloguing Project

  1. Pingback: The Manchester Geographical Society (MGS) Map Cataloguing project — John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog – Carly Richardson

  2. Pingback: The John Rylands Library Special Collections BlogManchester Geographical Society Map Project: Maps of Europe (#1) – Antiquarian maps

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