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National Geographic’s entire magazine archive in one small box

When National Geographic set about the “increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge” 122 years ago none of its founders could have imagined quite what that would encompass. One of the early editors of National Geographic magazine, the official journal of the National Geographic Society, defined the Society’s mission as covering “the world and all that’s in...

When National Geographic set about the “increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge” 122 years ago none of its founders could have imagined quite what that would encompass.

One of the early editors of National Geographic magazine, the official journal of the National Geographic Society, defined the Society’s mission as covering “the world and all that’s in it.”

Month after month the magazine has been doing just that. More than 1,460 issues of National Geographic have been published–well over 200,000 pages in all, including many thousands of photographs and hundreds of supplement maps.

There’s a room not far my office here at National Geographic headquarters in Washington D.C. that is lined with copies of all these issues–three walls stacked floor-to-ceiling with the magazine. It looks like yellow wallpaper.

Any one of the issues is a time capsule packed with glorious images of people, cultures, places, and history. Collectively they certainly feel like they cover all that’s in the world.

Browsing through the magazines from different decades I have become immersed in the zeitgeist of long ago–the Victorian era of exploration, the patriotism of world wars, the growing realization that the environment cannot be taken for granted.

This is what I enjoy most about the “Complete National Geographic,” a new digital collection on DVD or computer hard drive of every page of every issue of the magazine since it was first published as the official record of lectures at the National Geographic Society: It’s a time machine that with a few clicks of a computer mouse enables me to browse through the pictures, words, and advertisements of any year over the past dozen decades.

The regular price for the “Complete National Geographic” is $59.95, but for a limited time our marketing department is offering readers of this blog a $5 discount. Your price, if you order from this page during the promotion period, is $54.95. Click on

There is no one alive today who was around at the time National Geographic started publishing. This is the only way we can read the stories of those early geographers and explorers and see the world as they saw it.

The advertisements alone are worth a wander down memory lane–the big old cars with tail fins, the highly collectible Coca-Cola ads, airlines that were introducing the latest turbo-prop aircraft and the first nonstop transcontinental flights across the United States.

The entire collection of every issue of the magazine would fill entire walls. Imagine then the convenience of compressing all this and more into one small box no larger than a thick text book. How did National Geographic do this, I wandered?

The “Complete National Geographic” was adapted from a mega-project by the Society to scan all the pages of its flagship magazine at 1200 dpi–a resolution so fine that a single page can be blown up to six foot in size and still be sharp. For the DVD/hard drive version, however, resolution is much lower, but still enough to render vividly sharp images and text on a large computer screen.

Scanning more than 200,000 pages required the disassembly of each issue. Because the Society didn’t want to wreck its only hard-copy archives, many individual issues had to be bought from the collector’s market. Some of these weren’t in the greatest condition and blemishes, such as pencil marks and coffee cup rings, had to be removed from scans digitally.

In all, four scanners worked for a total of 12,000 hours to get the job done.

The thorough index that accompanies the “Complete National Geographic” enables users to navigate around 120 years of coverage of any topic, be that a country or a species or something else. The team that assembled the product harnessed National Geographic’s library index to do the job.

Some features of the “Complete National Geographic”:

  • Navigation that permits search by keyword, date, contributor and topic, and to browse all articles, illustrations, photographs and advertisements; a Geobrowse function powered by Bing Maps that allows users with Internet access to search nearly 5,000 locations on a globe that are featured in the magazine’s archive of articles and maps.
  • Hundreds of the magazine’s classic maps, digitized as part of the magazine’s archive for the first time.
  • Special “readlists,” that compile favorite articles of National Geographic editors as well as some of its stars: Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard recommends specific articles by early underwater explorers that inspired him, and National Geographic photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols points to articles by field pioneers Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Users will be able to upload and share their own “readlists” with “The Complete National Geographic” community online.
  • A trivia game with more than 300 questions that test players’ knowledge of subjects, including exploration, biology, botany, archaeology, the environment, conservation, geography, history, cultures, science, technology and weather. At the conclusion of each 10-question quiz, the user receives a score and links to articles that relate to the quiz questions.
  • A DVD featuring videos documenting the history of the National Geographic Society and National Geographic magazine.

The “Complete National Geographic” can be ordered online or by calling (888) 225-5647.

Annual updates to the “Complete National Geographic,” incorporating the most recent issues and maps of National Geographic magazine, will be available for purchase from the Internet.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn