Halford John Mackinder initially hoped to follow the occupation of his father, a medical doctor. Later he shifted his studies to science, then history and strategy, then law, which he actually practiced for a time, and, finally, he began lecturing on “the New Geography.”
Mackinder was the eldest son of Draper and Fanny Anne Hewitt Mackinder, who were both of Scottish ancestry. His education was at Epsom College and at Oxford, where he first gained a junior studentship at Christ Church in 1880. In 1883, he was president of the Oxford Union, and in 1884 he gained the Burdett-Coutts science scholarship. Later, he was called to the bar at Inner Temple and also began lecturing in the university extension system, eventually delivering more than six hundred lectures, mostly in the North and West between 1885 and 1893.
Mackinder was asked to give his lecture on “Scope and Methods of Geography” to the Royal Geographical Society in January, 1887, thus stimulating the revival of the academic discipline of geography in Great Britain. In 1892, he traveled to the United States and lectured at a number of major universities, including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Chicago.
Mackinder always involved himself in a number of endeavors simultaneously. Extension lecturing led him into university administration, where he was to make significant contributions at several institutions. During the 1890’s he was director of what evolved into the University of Reading. Between 1903 and 1908 he served as the second director of the newly formed London School of Economics and Political Science. Between 1895 and 1925 he was lecturer and then professor of geography at the University of London. At the same time he was instrumental in the creation of the first institute, and then school, of geography, officially formed at Oxford in 1899. His readership in geography at Oxford, the first such appointment in a British university, was from 1887 to 1905.
In 1889, Mackinder married Emilie Catherine Ginsburg, the daughter of an Old Testament scholar. Emilie Mackinder often lived abroad, and, although she survived her husband, there is rarely any mention of her in Mackinder’s obituaries.