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‘Honoured and excited’: St Andrews University academic appointed Geographer Royal for Scotland

St Andrews University principal Sally Mapstone, Professor Jo Sharp and RSGS CEO Mike Robinson
St Andrews University principal Sally Mapstone, Professor Jo Sharp and RSGS CEO Mike Robinson

One of Scotland’s most distinguished geographers has been appointed Geographer Royal for Scotland.

University of St Andrews Professor of Geography Jo Sharp is the sixth person to hold the distinguished title.

Professor Sharp’s role will be to promote geography in Scotland, to champion Scottish geography internationally and to better establish ‘geographical thinking’ within public life.

Cutting edge

Professor Sharp has been at the cutting edge of scholarship and public engagement around issues of inclusion and diversity for 25 years.

She has authored and edited over 120 works, including 11 books, most recently the widely praised “Imagine a Country” with Val McDermid, about Scotland’s future.

Professor Sharp said: “A geographical education provides a wonderful range of skills to make sense of the world around us, asking why it looks the way it does, why there are differences between people and places, and what needs to change to make it better.

Professor Jo Sharp of St Andrews University at West Sands. St Andrews

“I am honoured to be taking up this position and am excited to be able to use this as a platform to share my enthusiasm for my discipline.”

Scotland’s Environment and Land Reform Minister Màiri McAllan welcomed the appointment.

She said: “Professor Sharp is one of the most distinguished and well-regarded figures in her field with a well-deserved reputation as a pioneering, feminist and political geography researcher and teacher.

“Scotland has some of the most unique and diverse geographies in the world – increasing our understanding of the places around us will help us build better, more resilient communities which benefit people and the environment we live in.”

Dynamic and evolving

Perth-based Royal Scottish Geographical Society chief executive Mike Robinson said: “We look forward to working closely with Jo Sharp over the coming years.

“As the subject of geography is dynamic and ever evolving it is fitting that the role of Geographer Royal for Scotland is now a six-year placement rather than a life one, allowing new disciplines within geography to be explored and opportunities for the society itself to progress.

“We welcome the unique skills, expertise, and enthusiasm that Jo will bring to the role.”

Mike Robinson, chief executive of the RSGS
Mike Robinson, chief executive of the RSGS

Long history of Geographer Royals

The first Geographer Royal for Scotland was Sir Robert Sibbald, appointed in September 1682 by King Charles II to provide cartographic advice.

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

Four other individuals have held the title, including George Harvey Johnston, an Edinburgh cartographer and publisher who was Geographer Royal for Scotland to Queen Victoria from 1897.

The role was last held by Charlie Withers, Emeritus Professor at The University of Edinburgh, from 2015-2021, making him the first Geographer Royal for Scotland in 118 years.

Professor Sally Mapstone, the Principal of the University of St Andrews.
Professor Sally Mapstone, the Principal of the University of St Andrews.

The official warrant appointing Professor Sharp was approved and signed by The Queen and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews, Professor Sally Mapstone FRSE, added: “I am delighted at the appointment of Professor Jo Sharp to the role of Geographer Royal for Scotland.

“Jo brings a wealth of expertise, experience, and compelling vision to this position and I know she will prove an excellent ambassador for geography in Scotland and internationally.”

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