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Geography, Cartography and Military Intelligence: The Royal Geographical Society and the First World War

Michael Heffernan
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Vol. 21, No. 3 (1996), pp. 504-533
DOI: 10.2307/622594
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/622594
Page Count: 30
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Geography, Cartography and Military Intelligence: The Royal Geographical Society and the First World War
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Abstract

This essay examines the connections between geography, cartography and military intelligence in Britain during the First World War. It focuses on the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and its wartime activities on behalf of the British intelligence service. Evidence is presented on the role of the RGS in the dispute between the so-called 'westerners', committed to an all-out clash with Germany on the western front, and the 'easterners', who argued that the key to deadlock in western Europe lay in the Ottoman Empire. For a short period, the RGS became a significant metropolitan focus for those advocating a British intervention in the Middle East coupled with an Arab revolt against the Turks, the campaign popularly associated with T E Lawrence. The essay concludes with an assessment of the significance of geography to the British war effort and an evaluation of the impact of the war on the institutions and prestige of the discipline. Some final comments are offered on the moral and ethical questions raised by the mobilization of geographical expertise in wartime.

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