The first ever Congrès international des Sciences géographiques, cosmographiques et commerciales took place in Antwerp in 1871. Although it was a local initiative, it was a model for later conferences in terms of organization, structure and choice of themes.
One of the key figures in the Organizing Committee of the conference was City Archivist Pieter Génard. Five years after the conference, he also played an important role in the foundation of the Antwerp Geographical Society and became its first secretary. Thanks to Génard not only the archives of the conference, but also some crucial records from the first decades of the Society ended up in the Antwerp City Archives (FelixArchief). These records have now been properly described in the online catalogue and made available for research.
From 1876 until the 1970s the Royal Antwerp Geographical Society (KAGA) invited explorers, geographers and other scientists to give lectures and presentations on their discovery and view of the world. Some famous names from its history are Adrien de Gerlache, Roald Amundsen, Marshall Lyautey, Ernest Shackleton and Paul Otlet.
Over time, however, the KAGA's activities and organisation dwindled, causing in the mid 1990s the Antwerp University Library to adopt KAGA library, which consisted of a collection of journals, maps, atlases, and books, including some valuable old prints. Finally, when the society ceased its regular activities some years ago, the University Library also obtained its archives, which were registered in a specially developed archival module of the library's catalogue system (2012-2014).
The completion of this project now allows to paint a better picture of the organization’s history, its numerous activities and fascinating collection of books, maps, documents and objects. In July 2015 the full archival catalogue will be made openly accessible. A web exposition featuring the most prominent figures and objects of the first conference (1871) and the society will be launched under the title: Geographical Initiatives in Antwerp: the Tale of the Royal Geographical Society of Antwerp (1871-1970). This co-operation between the University Library and the FelixArchief thus aims not only to present the glorious past of this society, but also to make it available for current research and study.