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Encyclopedia > National Geographic

The National Geographic Society was founded in the USA on January 27, 1888, by 33 men interested in "organizing a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge." They had begun discussing forming the Society two weeks earlier on January 13, 1888. Gardiner Greene Hubbard became its first president and his son-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell, eventually succeeded him. Its purpose is to advance the general knowledge of geography and the world among the general public. To this end, it sponsors exploration, and publishes a monthly magazine, National Geographic.


National Geographic Magazine

Cover of January, National Geographic
Cover of January, 1915 National Geographic

The National Geographic Magazine, later shortened to National Geographic, first came out nine months after the Society was founded. It has become one of the world's best-known magazines and is immediately identifiable by its characteristic yellow borders.

Monthly issues of the magazine come out 12 times a year; occasional special additional issues have been issued. In addition to articles about the scenery, history, and from every corner of the world, the magazine has long been known for its book-like quality and its standard of photography makes it the home of some of the premier photojournalism in the world. The magazine often featured some color photography even in the early 20th century when this technology was still rare.

The magazine also is well-known for frequently providing detailed maps of regions that are visited. The Society's map archives have even been used by the United States government in instances where its own cartographic resources were limited. Subscribers to the magazine frequently keep old issues (most other magazines tend to be discarded when a household has finished with them), and subscribers can get special cases to contain each yearly volume.

In 1960, the magazine started publishing photographs on its covers, which had previously contained just text. In subsequent years, the magazine shed its famous oak leaf trim.

One cover photo in 1985 was of an Afghan refugee, a young girl with piercing green eyes. Her image became world famous. After the US-led invasion of Afghanistan a search was conducted for the girl. She was identified in 2002 as Sharbat Gula, a Pashtun. Her story was told in the March 2003 issue of National Geographic.

In 1995, National Geographic began publishing in Japanese, its first local language edition. The magazine is now published in a number of different languages around the world, including: Japanese, Spanish, Hebrew, Greek, French, German, Polish, Korean, Portuguese, Chinese, Czech, Romanian, Russian, Norwegian, Turkish and Dutch.

Naming controversy with Iran

The magazine has recently been accused by tens of thousands of its readers across the globe of failing to keep its objectives in focus in the names used on maps of Middle East in its 2005 atlas. In its newest atlas the National Geographic has labeled the islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa recognized as being "Occupied by Iran, Claimed by U.A.E.". National Geographic has also included alternate Arabic names for the Iranian islands of Lavan and Kish, and listed "Arabian Gulf" as an alternate name for the Persian Gulf. This resulted in heavy protests by many Iranians, most specially the Internet user community, which led to the Iranian government acting on the issue and banning the distribution of the society's publications in Iran.

National Geographic has since conceded that the use of the Arabian name "Qeys" for the island of Kish was inaccurate. It has also removed any allusions to the status of the three islands. In addition, "Arabian Gulf? has been relegated to a small note explaining: "Historically and most commonly known as the Persian Gulf, this body of water is referred to by some as the Arabian Gulf." These corrections have been made in the online atlas and it has promised to change future print versions accordingly. See Persian Gulf.

Other publications

In addition to its famous flagship magazine, the Society publishes four other periodicals:

  • National Geographic Kids: launched in 1975 as National Geographic World ;
  • National Geographic Traveler: launched in 1984;
  • National Geographic Adventure: launched in 1999; and
  • National Geographic Explorer: classroom magazine launched in 2001.

From 1919 to 1975, the Society produced a weekly National Geographic School Bulletin. During the 1980s and 1990s, it published a short-lived research journal.

The Society has also published maps, atlases, and numerous books.


The National Geographic Society has also explored the use of television as a way to bring the travels of its correspondents into people's homes. National Geographic specials as well as television series have been shown on PBS and other networks in the United States for many years. Recently, the society launched its own television network, the National Geographic Channel for cable and satellite viewers.

Support for research & projects

The Society has helped sponsor many expeditions and research projects over the years, including:

The Society sponsors many socially-based projects including AINA, a Kabul-based organization dedicated to developing an independent Afghan media.

The Society also sponsors the National Geographic Bee, an annual geographic contest for American middle-school students.

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
The National Geographic Magazine
  • National Geographic Online (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/)
  • March 2003 issue, How They Found National Geographic's "Afghan Girl" (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/03/0311_020312_sharbat.html)
  • Society's flag (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/birth/nfor4at1.html)
  • Site criticising the National Geographic on geographical names (http://www.persiangulfonline.org/) - Describes Iranian geographic naming controversy
  • National Geographic and the National Iranian American Council discuss the naming dispute (http://www.niacouncil.org/pressreleases/press230.asp)



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