National Geographic (magazine)

National Geographic (magazine)
National Geographic

March 2009 cover of National Geographic
Editor Chris Johns
Categories Geography, Science, History, Nature
Frequency Monthly
Total circulation
4,445,603 (USA)[1]
First issue October 1888[2]
Company National Geographic Society
Country United States
Based in Washington, D.C.
Language English
ISSN 0027-9358

National Geographic, formerly the National Geographic Magazine, is the official journal of the National Geographic Society. It published its first issue in 1888, just nine months after the Society itself was founded. It is immediately identifiable by the characteristic yellow frame that surrounds its front cover.

There are 12 monthly issues of the National Geographic per year, plus additional map supplements. On rare occasions, special editions are issued. It contains articles about geography, popular science, history, culture, current events, and photography.

With a worldwide circulation in thirty-three language editions of nearly nine million, more than fifty million people receive the magazine every month.[citation needed] In May 2007, 2008, and 2010 National Geographic magazine won the American Society of Magazine Editors' General Excellence Award in the over two million circulation category. In 2010, National Geographic Magazine received the top ASME awards for photojournalism and essay.



The current Editor-in-Chief of the National Geographic Magazine is Chris Johns, who was named Editor of the Year in October 2008 by Advertising Age magazine at the American Magazine Conference.

Society Executive Vice President and President of the Magazine Group Declan Moore has overall responsibility for magazines at the National Geographic Society. He reports to Tim Kelly, President, National Geographic Global Media, and new National Geographic Society president. Terry B. Adamson, Executive Vice President of the Society and the Society's chief legal officer and heads governmental relations, has overall responsibility for the Society's international publications, including National Geographic magazine.


January 1915 cover of The National Geographic Magazine

The first issue of National Geographic Magazine was published in October 1888, just nine months after the Society itself was founded. The hallmark of National Geographic, reinventing it from a text-oriented entity closer to a scientific journal, to a magazine famous for exclusive pictorial footage, was its January 1905 publication of several full-page pictures made in Tibet in 1900–1901 by two explorers from the Russian Empire, Gombojab Tsybikov and Ovshe Norzunov. The June 1985 cover portrait of 13-year-old Afghan girl Sharbat Gula became one of the magazine's most recognizable images.

In the late 1990s and 2000s, prolonged litigation over copyright of the magazine as a collective work in Greenberg v. National Geographic and other cases caused National Geographic to withdraw from the market The Complete National Geographic, a digital compilation of all its past issues of the magazine. Two different federal appellate courts have now ruled in National Geographic's favor in permitting an electronic reproduction of the paper magazine and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in December 2008. In July 2009 National Geographic announced a new version of The Complete National Geographic, containing all issues of the magazine from 1888 through December 2008. An updated version was released the next year, adding the issues from 2009; these issues are also available on a separate disc for owners of the original version. Updates for subsequent years of the magazine's archive are scheduled to be made available on an annual basis.

In 2006, National Geographic writer Paul Salopek was arrested and charged with espionage, entering Sudan without a visa, and other crimes by the government of Sudan while on assignment for a feature article. After National Geographic and the Chicago Tribune, for whom Salopek also wrote, mounted a legal defense and led an international appeal to Sudan, he was eventually released.


During the Cold War, the magazine committed itself to presenting a balanced view of the physical and human geography of nations beyond the Iron Curtain. The magazine printed articles on Berlin, de-occupied Austria, the Soviet Union, and Communist China that deliberately downplayed politics to focus on culture. In its coverage of the Space Race, National Geographic focused on the scientific achievement while largely avoiding reference to the race's connection to nuclear arms buildup.

In later years articles became outspoken on issues such as environment, deforestation, chemical pollution, global warming, and endangered species. Series of articles were included focusing on the history and varied uses of specific products such as a single metal, gem, food crop, or agricultural product, or an archaeological discovery. Occasionally an entire month's issue would be devoted to a single country, past civilization, a natural resource whose future is endangered, or other theme. In recent decades, the National Geographic Society has unveiled other magazines with different focuses. Whereas in the past, the Magazine featured lengthy expositions, recent issues have shorter, but nevertheless tighter articles.


Color photograph of the Taj Mahal. Source: The National Geographic Magazine, March 1921

In addition to being well-known for articles about scenery, history, and the most distant corners of the world, the magazine has been recognized for its book-like quality and its standard of photography. This standard makes it the home to some of the highest-quality photojournalism in the world. The magazine began to feature color photography in the early 20th century, when this technology was still rare. During the 1930s, Luis Marden (1913–2003), a writer and photographer for National Geographic, convinced the magazine to allow its photographers to use small 35 mm cameras loaded with Kodachrome film over bulkier cameras with tripods and glass plates. In 1959, the magazine started publishing small photographs on its covers, later becoming larger photographs. National Geographic photography has quickly shifted to digital photography for both its magazine on paper and its website. In subsequent years, the magazine cover, while keeping its yellow border, shed its oak leaf trim and bare table of contents, for a large photograph taken from one of the month's articles inside. Issues of National Geographic are often kept by subscribers for years and re-sold at thrift stores as collectible back-issues. In 2006, National Geographic began an international photography competition with over eighteen countries participating.

In conservative Muslim countries like Iran and Malaysia, photographs featuring topless or scantily-clad members of primitive tribal societies are often blacked out; buyers and subscribers often complain that this practice decreases the artistic value of the photographs for which National Geographic is world-renowned.

See also: Red Shirt School of Photography

Map supplements

Supplementing the articles, the magazine sometimes provides maps of the regions visited.

National Geographic Maps (originally the Cartographic Division) became a division of the National Geographic Society in 1915. The first supplement map, which appeared in the May 1918 issue of the magazine, titled The Western Theatre of War, served as a reference for overseas military personnel and soldier's families alike.[3] On some occasions, the Society's map archives have been used by the United States government in instances where its own cartographic resources were limited.[4] President Franklin D. Roosevelt's White House map room was filled with National Geographic maps. A National Geographic map of Europe is featured in the displays of the Winston Churchill museum in London showing Churchill's markings at the Yalta Conference where the Allied leaders divided post-war Europe.

In 2001, National Geographic released an eight-CD-ROM set containing all its maps from 1888 to December 2000. Printed versions are also available from

Language editions

In 1995, National Geographic began publishing in Japanese, its first local language edition. The magazine is currently published in 34[5] language editions around the world, including English on a worldwide basis, Arabic, Bulgarian, traditional and simplified character Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew and an Orthodox Hebrew edition, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, two Portuguese language editions, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovene, two Spanish language editions, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.

Recently launched local-language editions: Lithuanian (October 2009), Arabic (October 2010, published in 15 countries across the Middle East and North Africa)[6], Estonian (October 2011).

Language Website Editor-in-chief First issue
English Chris Johns October 1888
Arabic Mohammed Al-Hamady October 2010
Bulgarian Krassimir Drumev November 2005
Chinese (Mainland China) Ye Nan July 2007
Chinese (Taiwan) Roger Pan January 2001
Croatian Hrvoje Prćić November 2003
Czech Tomáš Tureček October 2002
Danish Karen Gunn September 2000
Dutch (Netherlands/Belgium) Aart Aarsbergen October 2000
Estonian Erkki Peetsalu October 2011
Finnish Karen Gunn January 2001
French François Marot October 1999
German Erwin Brunner October 1999
Greek Maria Atmatzidou October 1998
Hungarian Tamás Schlosser March 2003
Hebrew Daphne Raz June 1998 (Orthodox Hebrew edition: April 2007)
Indonesian Yunas Santhani Azis March 2005
Italian Guglielmo Pepe February 1998
Japanese Hiroyuki Fujita April 1995
Korean (South Korea) Kay Wang January 2000
Lithuanian Frederikas Jansonas October 2009
Norwegian Karen Gunn September 2000
Polish Martyna Wojciechowska October 1999
Portuguese (Brazil) Matthew Shirts May 2000
Portuguese (Portugal) Gonçalo Pereira April 2001
Romanian Cristian Lascu May 2003
Russian Andrei Doubrovski October 2003
Serbian Igor Rill November 2006
Slovene Marija Javornik April 2006
Spanish (Latin America) Omar Lopez November 1997
Spanish (Spain) Josep Cabello October 1997
Swedish Karen Gunn September 2000
Thai Kowit Phadungruangkij August 2001
Turkish Nesibe Bat May 2001

In April 2005, an Indonesian edition launched, published by Gramedia Majalah. A Bulgarian edition of the magazine published by a Sanoma Publishing joint venture launched in November, 2005 and a Slovenian edition published by Rokus launched in May, 2006. In association with Trends Publications in Beijing and IDG Asia, National Geographic has been authorized for "copyright cooperation" in China to publish the yellow border magazine, which launched with the July 2007 issue of the magazine with an event in Beijing on July 10, 2007 and another event on December 6, 2007 in Beijing also celebrating the 29th anniversary of normalization of U.S.–China relations featuring former President Jimmy Carter. A Serbian edition of National Geographic was launched with the November 2006 issue in partnership with a joint venture of Sanoma and Gruner + Jahr.

In contrast to the United States, where membership in the National Geographic Society was until recently the only way to receive the magazine, the worldwide editions are sold on newsstands in addition to regular subscriptions. In several countries, such as Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and Turkey, National Geographic paved the way for a subscription model in addition to traditional newsstand sales.

Huaxia Geographic

The Mainland Chinese edition (CNY20.00) features a few articles written in Chinese, and the original translated text is truncated or even deleted. So the Taiwanese Chinese edition is also sold in China, with a relatively high price (labelled CNY50.00, but generally sold CNY38.00).


On May 1, 2008, National Geographic won three National Magazine Awards—an award solely for its written content—in the reporting category for an article by Peter Hessler on the Chinese economy; an award in the photojournalism category for work by John Stanmeyer on malaria in the Third World; and a prestigious award for general excellence.[7]


Linda Steet in her book Veils and Daggers: A Century of National Geographic's Representation of the Arab World criticizes National Geographic for its

masculinist rhetoric, the one-directionality of its cross-cultural contact, its claim of objectivity and representations that build layers of a... world hierarchy.[8]

Lutz and Collins in their book Reading National Geographic argue that National Geographic is intimately tied to the American establishment and "cultivates ties to government officials and corporate interests".[9] Rothenberg suggests that National Geographic, as a part of mainstream popular culture, has historically helped to articulate a particularly American identity in opposition to "both old Europe and primitive non-Western regions... an identity of civic and technological superiority but yet, a distinctly benign and friendly identity".[10]

The book Reading National Geographic notes how photos are sometimes electronically manipulated.[11] In one photo of bare-breasted Polynesian women, the skin color was darkened.[11] Women with light skin have not appeared topless in the magazine.[11] The book also documents how NG photographers have encouraged their subjects to change costumes when their clothing was seen as "too drab" for the magazine.[11] Summarizing an analysis of NG photographs from 1950 to 1986, the authors argue the following themes: "The people of the third and fourth worlds are portrayed as exotic; they are idealized; they are naturalized and taken out of all but a single historical narrative; and they are sexualized. Several of these themes wax and wane in importance through the postwar period, but none is ever absent."[12]


See also


  1. ^ "eCirc for Consumer Magazines". Audit Bureau of Circulations. June 30, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  2. ^ National Geographic Fact Sheet
  3. ^ "Maps of the News - December 2009 Edition", Contours, The Official National Geographic Maps Blog, posted December 17, 2009, accessed at
  4. ^ Grosvenor, Gilbert (1950). Map Services of the National Geographic Society. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. A Map Cabinet containing over eighteen National Geographic maps has been presented to every U.S. president since President Franklin D. Roosevelt.. 
  5. ^ National Geographic Press Release (Aug. 25, 2011), [1]
  6. ^ Mahmoud, Abdullah (25 Sept 2010), [2]
  7. ^ Pérez-Peña, Richard. "National Geographic Wins 3 Awards, Honored Beyond Photography". The New York Times, May 2, 2008. Accessed 8 January 2010.
  8. ^ Steet, Linda (2000). Veils and Daggers: A Century of National Geographic's Representation of the Arab World. Temple University Press. p. 5. ISBN 9781566397520. 
  9. ^ Lutz, Catherine and Jane Collins (1993). Reading National Geographic. University Of Chicago Press. p. 5. ISBN 9780226497242. 
  10. ^ Rothenberg, Tamar (2007). Presenting America's World: Strategies of Innocence in National Geographic Magazine, 1888–1945. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 5. ISBN 9780754645108. 
  11. ^ a b c d Iezza, Cora McGovern. "Reading Reading National Geographic". 1997. (Via the Internet Archive.)[self-published source?]
  12. ^ Lutz, Catherine and Jane Collins (1993). Reading National Geographic. University Of Chicago Press. p. 89. ISBN 9780226497242. 

Further reading

  • Roger M. Poole, Explorers House: National Geographic and the World it Made, 2004; reprint, Penguin Press, 2006, ISBN 9780143035930
  • Stephanie L. Hawkins, American Iconographic: "National Geographic," Global Culture, and the Visual Imagination, University of Virginia Press, 2010, ISBN9780813929668, 264 pages. A scholarly study of the magazine's rise as a cultural institution that uses the letters of its founders and its readers; argues that National Geographic encouraged readers to question Western values and identify with others.
  • Moseley, W.G. 2005. “Reflecting on National Geographic Magazine and Academic Geography: The September 2005 Special Issue on Africa” African Geographical Review. 24: 93–100.

External links

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