Geographical Society of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Geographical Society of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


formerly called Russian Geographic Society (1845-50, 1917-26), Imperial Russian Geographic Society (1850-1917), and State Geographic Society (1926-38). Established in St. Petersburg on Aug. 6 (18), 1845, on the initiative of such prominent scientists as F. P. Litke, K. M. Ber, and F. P. Wrangel, it is one of the world’s oldest geographic societies. Since its establishment the Geographical Society has pursued extensive programs of expeditionary, publishing, and educational activities. It was responsible for major scientific contributions to the study of many countries and regions, including the Urals, Siberia, the Far East, Middle and Central Asia, the Caucasus, Iran, New Guinea, India, and the polar regions. Among the explorers and geographers whose work the society supported were P. A. Kropotkin, P. P. Semenov-Tian-Shanskii, N. M. Przheval’skii, N. N. Miklukho-Maklai, M. V. Pevtsov, P. K. Kozlov, V. A. Obruchev, and L. S. Berg.

Before the October Revolution the Geographical Society had 11 sections and 1,000 members. By 1971 the membership had increased to 19,000. The highest organ of the Geographical Society is its congress, which convenes every five years. Between congresses the Geographical Society is directed by the Scientific Council (elected by the congress) and its presidium, under the leadership of the president. Before the Revolution the society’s chairmen were members of the royal family—Grand Dukes Konstantin Nikolaevich (1845-92) and Nikolai Mikhailovich (1892-1917). In actuality, however, the society was directed by the vice-chairmen—F. P. Litke (1845-50, 1857-72), M. N. Murav’ev (1850-57), P. P. Semenov (1873-1914), and Iu. M. Shokal’skii (from 1914). The chairmen (presidents) of the Geographical Society after the October Revolution included Iu. M. Shokal’skii (until 1931), N. I. Vavilov (1931-40), L. S. Berg (1940-50), E. N. Pavlovskii (1952-64), and S. V. Kalesnik (since 1964).

The Geographical Society comprises (1970) a central organization (Leningrad), 14 geographic societies of the Union republics, 15 branches in the RSFSR, and approximately 100 sections. The presidium of the Geographical Society is located in Leningrad.

The principal activities of the Geographical Society are (1) discussion of scientific reports (approximately 27,000 between 1947 and 1969), (2) conducting large-scale scientific conferences, (3) convening all-Union geographic congresses (first congress, 1933, Leningrad; second congress, 1947, Leningrad, which was also the first congress of the Geographical Society; second congress of the Geographical Society, 1955, Moscow; third congress of the Geographical Society, 1960, Kiev; fourth congress of the Geographical Society, 1964, Moscow; fifth congress of the Geographical Society, 1970 Leningrad), (4) expert examination and consultation for all questions related to geography, (5) organization of expeditions and scientific trips (20-50 annually), (6) popularization of geographic knowledge (approximately 3 million people have attended lectures since 1938), (7) management of the voluntary phenological network of the USSR, (8) awarding medals and prizes for outstanding scientific works on geography (four gold medals: the Great Medal, the Litke Medal, the Semenov-Tian-Shanskii Medal, the Przheval’skii Medal, and the Dezhnev Prize), and (9) publication (approximately 2,000 volumes between 1846 and 1970). The central organization publishes Izvestiia (since 1865), Zapiski (since 1846), Geograficheskie sborniki (since 1952), Doklady otdelenii i komissii (since 1967), as well as monographs and pamphlets. The more than 60 branches and sections of the society publish their own scientific collections, of which Voprosy geografii (Moscow, since 1946), published by the Moscow branch, is well known. The society’s central library (more than 375,000 volumes), map library (approximately 40,000 maps and atlases), and archive (more than 60,000 documents) are located in Leningrad.


Semenov, P. P. Istoriia poluvekovoi deiatel’nosti Imp. Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva, parts 1-3. St. Petersburg, 1896.
Berg, L. S. Vsesoiuznoe Geograficheskoe obshchestvo za 100 let. 1845-1945. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Geograficheskoe obshchestvo za 125 let. Leningrad, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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