There’s an idea alive in the land that the Age of Exploration is over: Just glance at the globe! All the blank spots have been mapped! Take a bow, Exploration—and get off the stage. To which we say: Hogwash. Yes—the world has been topo’d off, by all manner of surveyors and satellites. And as the youngest progeny of the National Geographic Society, which has supported groundbreaking, map-filling exploration since 1888, we’re thrilled at all the success our efforts (among others) have wrought.
But here’s the thing: The NGS has a much broader definition of “exploration” than the simplistic “finding new places,” and so do we—and that’s where the been-there/done-that millennial ennui peddlers are indulging in Magoo-like myopia.
Explorers at the millennium just need to be more creative. They need to redefine the nature of exploration itself, casting it, for instance, not as a straightforward search for unknown landscape, but as an emergency investigation of the disappearing species and cultures that live upon it. As a dig for the bones of undiscovered dinosaurs below it. As a slightly quixotic quest for the precise height of the world’s tallest mountains. As a treacherous slog through deep, unmapped, toxic-fume-filled caverns. As an inventory of the world at the bottom of the ocean.
To prove our point, we’ve chosen to spotlight seven explorers who have had the creative vision and the audacious curiosity to be unstymied by the notion that it’s all been done. And because of the human inclination to worship at the altar of First, these explorers, who tend to pursue subtler objectives, understand the need to cultivate their own celebrity, to build a buzz, just to avoid becoming trees falling in the silent (denuded) forest. We applaud them for that. And we’re happy to help.