Withers maps out future in Scotland

Professor Charles Withers
Professor Charles Withers
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The Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) has announced the appointment of a new Geographer Royal for Scotland.

Professor Charles Withers, Ogilvie Chair of Geography at Edinburgh University, was conferred as the first Geographer Royal for Scotland in 118 years at a ceremony in Perth on Tuesday.

Prof Withers is a world-leading historical and cultural geographer, a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Professor Withers will be awarded the title by HRH The Princess Royal.

The role of the Geographer Royal is to be an international and national ambassador for geography, helping to promote geography in research, education and in society more widely.

In accepting the position, Prof Withers said: “I am honoured for myself, of course, and for my university. But, and principally, this honour is for geography.

“Now after a period in which the title of Geographer Royal for Scotland has lain in abeyance, the subject again has this further recognition of its standing.”

The first Geographer Royal for Scotland, Sir Robert Sibbald, was appointed in 1682 by King Charles II, almost 333 years ago to the day.

Sibbald was one of the leading intellectuals of his day. He was the first Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University, co-founder of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh and of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Traditionally the role was for cartographic and geographic advice. There have been four individuals who have previously held the title of Geographer Royal For Scotland, the last being George Harvey Johnston, a leading Edinburgh cartographer and publisher who was Geographer Royal for Scotland to Queen Victoria from 1897.

After Johnston, the related title of Cartographer to The King was bestowed as a corporate warrant to the Bartholomew map-making firm also from Edinburgh in the period when John George Bartholomew, co-founder of the RSGS, was at the helm.

Prof Withers is therefore only the fifth personal honorific.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “I am extremely pleased that Professor Withers from Edinburgh University will undertake this new role as Geographer Royal for Scotland. He brings several years of relevant experience and has the necessary skills and commitment to act as an excellent ambassador for geographical knowledge.

“I have no doubt that he will prove to be dedicated to the development and promotion of geographical knowledge, championing the subject of geography in education, particularly to children in our schools, as well as to wider society. After all, the Earth’s landscapes, peoples, places and environments affect us all each day.”