Friday, September 19, 2008


A gazetteer is a geographical dictionary or , an important reference for information about places and place names , used in conjunction with a map or a full atlas. It typically contains information concerning the geographical makeup of a country, region, or continent as well as the social statistics and physical features, such as mountains, waterways, or roads. Examples of information you would find include the location of places, dimensions of physical features, , , literacy rate, etc. This information is generally divided into overhead topics with entries listed in alphabetical order.

Gazetteers of ancient Greece existed since the . The first known gazetteer of China appeared by the 1st century, and with the in , the became invested in producing gazetteers for their local areas as a source of information as well as local pride. Although existent only in fragments, the geographer of wrote a geographical dictionary in the 6th century which influenced later European compilers of gazetteers by the 16th century. Modern gazetteers can be found in reference sections of most libraries as well as on the .


The Oxford English Dictionary defines the "gazetteer" as a "geographical index or dictionary". Historian Robert C. White suggests that the "very eminent person" written of by Echard was his colleague Edmund Bohun, and chose not to mention Bohun because he became associated with the .

Types and organization

Gazetteers are often categorized by the type, and scope, of the information presented. ''World gazetteers'' usually consist of an alphabetical listing of countries, with pertinent statistics for each one, with some gazetteers listing information on individual cities, towns, villages, and other of varying sizes. ''Short-form gazetteers'', often used in conjunction with computer mapping and systems, may simply contain a list of place-names together with their locations in latitude and longitude or other spatial referencing systems . Short-form gazetteers appear as a place-name index in the rear of major published atlases. ''Descriptive gazetteers'' may include lengthy textual descriptions of the places they contain, including explanation of industries, government, geography, together with historical perspectives, maps and / or photographs. ''Thematic gazetteers'' list places or geographical features by theme; for example fishing ports, nuclear power stations, or historic buildings. Their common element is that the geographical location is an important attribute of the features listed.

Gazetteer editors gather facts and other information from official government reports, the census, chambers of commerce, together with numerous other sources, and organise these in digest form.


Western world

Hellenistic and Greco-Roman eras

In his journal article "Alexander and the Ganges" , the 20th century historian W.W. Tarn calls a list and description of satrapies of written between 324 and 323 BC as an ancient gazetteer. Tarn notes that the document is dated no later than June 323 BC, since it features by Alexander's generals. It was revised by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BC. Historian Truesdell S. Brown asserts that what Dionysius' describes in this quote about the logographers should be categorized not as a true "history" but rather as a gazetteer.

Medieval and early modern eras

The ''Domesday Book'' initiated by William I of England in 1086 was a government survey on all the administrative counties of England; it was used to assess the properties of farmsteads and landholders in order to tax them sufficiently. In the survey, numerous English castles were listed; scholars debate on exactly how many were actually referenced in the book. However, the ''Domesday Book'' does detail the fact that out of 3,558 registered houses destroyed in 112 different boroughs listed, 410 of these destroyed houses were the direct result of castle construction and expansion. In 1316, the Nomina Villarum survey was initiated by Edward II of England; it was essentially a list of all the administrative subdivisions throughout England which could be utilized by the state in order to assess how much military troops could be conscripted and summoned from each region. The ''Speculum Britanniae'' of the English cartographer and topographer John Norden had an alphabetical list of places throughout England with headings showing their and referenced to attached maps. Englisham John Speed's ''Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine'' published in 1611 provided gazetteers for counties throughout England, which included illustrative maps, short local histories, a list of administrative hundreds, an index of parishes, and the coordinates of longitude and latitude for county towns. Starting in 1662, the Hearth Tax Returns with attached maps of local areas were compiled by individual parishes throughout England while a duplicate of their records were sent to the central government offices of the Exchequer. In his work, Edmund Bohun attributed the first known Western geographical dictionary to geographer Stephanus of Byzantium while also noting influence in his work from the ''Thesaurus Geographicus'' by the cartographer Abraham Ortelius , but stated that Ortelius' work dealt largely with ancient geography and not up-to-date information. He divided this work into overhead topics of cities, rivers, mountains, and lakes and swamps. With the gradual expansion of Laurence Echard's gazetteer of 1693, it too became a universal geographical dictionary that was translated into in 1750, into in 1809, and into in 1810.

Following the American Revolutionary War, United States clergyman and historian Jeremy Belknap and Ebenezer Hazard intended to create the first post-revolutionary geographical works and gazetteers, but they were anticipated by the clergyman and geographer Jedidiah Morse with his ''Geography Made Easy'' in 1784. However, Morse was unable to finish the gazetteer in time for his 1784 geography and postponed it. With the aid of Noah Webster and Rev. Samuel Austin, Morse finally published his gazetteer ''The American Universal Geography'' in 1797. However, Morse's gazetteer did not receive distinction by literary critics, as gazetteers were deemed as belonging to a lower literary class. The reviewer of Joseph Scott's 1795 gazetteer commented that it was "little more than medleys of politics, history and miscellaneous remarks on the manners, languages and arts of different nations, arranged in the order in which the territories stand on the map."

Modern era

Gazetteers became widely popular in in the 19th century, with publishers such as Fullarton, Mackenzie, Chambers and W & A.K. Johnston, many of whom were , meeting public demand for information on an expanding Empire. This British tradition continues in the electronic age with innovations such as the National Land and Property Gazetteer, the text-based Gazetteer for Scotland, and the new National Gazetteer , formerly known as the Definitive National Address - Scotland National Gazetteer. In addition to local or regional gazetteers, there have also been comprehensive world gazetteers published; an early example would be the 1912 world gazetteer published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. There are also interregional gazetteers with a specific focus, such as the gazetteer of the Swedish atlas "Das B?stas Bilbok" , a road atlas and guide for Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark.

East Asia


In Han Dynasty China, the ''Yuejue Shu'' written in 52 AD is considered by modern and historians to be the prototype of the gazetteer , as it contained essays on a wide variety of subjects including changes in territorial division, the founding of cities, local products, and customs. There are over 8,000 gazetteers of pre-modern China that have survived. Gazetteers became more common in the Song Dynasty , yet the bulk of surviving gazetteers were written during the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty . Gazetteers from this era focused on boundaries and territory, place names, mountains and rivers, ancient sites, local products, local , customs, botany, topography, and locations of palaces, streets, temples, etc. By the Tang Dynasty the gazetteer became much more geographically specific, with a broad amount of content arranged topically; for example, there would be individual sections devoted to local astronomy, schools, dikes, canals, post stations, altars, local deities, temples, tombs, etc. By the Song Dynasty it became more common for gazetteers to provide biographies of local celebrities, accounts of elite local families, bibliographies, and literary anthologies of poems and essays dedicated to famous local spots. Song gazetteers also made lists and descriptions of city walls, gate names, wards and markets, districts, population size, and residences of former .

In 610, after the Sui Dynasty united a politically divided China, Emperor Yang of Sui had all the prepare gazetteers called '' so that a vast amount of updated textual and visual information on local roads, rivers, canals, and landmarks could be utilized by the central government to maintain control and provide better security. Although the date to the 4th century BC, and ''tujing'' since the or Han dynasties, this was the first known instance in China when the textual information of ''tujing'' became the primary element over the drawn illustrations. This Sui Dynasty process of providing maps and visual aids in written gazetteers—as well as the submitting of gazetteers with illustrative maps by local administrations to the central government—was continued in every subsequent .

Historian James M. Hargett states that by the time of the Song Dynasty, gazetteers became far more geared towards serving the current political, administrative, and military concerns than in gazetteers of previous eras, while there were many more gazetteers compiled on the local and national levels than in previous eras. Emperor Taizu of Song ordered Lu Duosun and a team of cartographers and scholars in 971 to initiate the compilation of a huge atlas and nationwide gazetteer that covered the whole of China proper, This project was completed in 1010 by a team of scholars under Song Zhun, who presented it in 1,566 chapters to the throne of . Furthermore, the ''fangzhi'' were almost always because they were intended for a large reading audience, whereas ''tujing'' were exclusive records read by the local officials who drafted them and the central government officials who collected them. By the 16th century—during the Ming Dynasty—local gazetteers were commonly composed due to local decision-making rather than a central government mandate. Historian Peter K. Bol states that local gazetteers composed in this manner were the result of increased domestic and international trade that facilitated greater local wealth throughout China.

While working in the , the Tang Dynasty cartographer Jia Dan and his colleagues would about their respective homelands, and from these interrogations would produce maps supplemented by textual information. Even within China, information on of non- peoples were often described in the local histories and gazetteers of provinces such as Guizhou during the Ming and Qing dynasties. As the Qing Dynasty pushed further with its troops and government authorities into areas of Guizhou that were uninhabited and not administered by the Qing government, the official gazetteers of the region would be revised to include the newly drawn-up districts and non-Han ethnic groups therein. By 1673, the Guizhou gazetteers featured different written entries for the various Miao peoples of the region.

Historian Timothy Brook states that Ming Dynasty gazetteers demonstrate a shift in the attitudes of towards the traditionally lower . Hence, the gentry figures composing the gazetteers in the latter half of the Ming period spoke favorably of merchants, whereas before they were rarely mentioned.

Although better known for his work on the ''Gujin Tushu Jicheng'' encyclopedia, the early-to-mid Qing scholar Jiang Tingxi aided other scholars in the compilation of the "Daqing Yitongzhi" . This was provided with a preface in 1744 , revised in 1764, and reprinted in 1849. while comprehensive world gazetteers were later tanslated into Chinese by Europeans. The William Muirhead , who lived in Shanghai during the late Qing period, published the gazetteer "Dili quanzhi", which was reprinted in Japan in 1859. Chinese maritime trade gazetteers mentioned a slew of different countries that came to trade in China, such as United States vessels docking at in the "Yuehaiguanzhi" published in 1839 . The Chinese language gazetteer "Haiguo tuzhi" by Wei Yuan in 1844 was printed in Japan two decades later 1854. This work was popular in Japan not for its geographical knowledge, but for its analysis of potential defensive military strategy in the face of European imperialism and the Qing's recent defeat in the First Opium War due to European artillery and gunboats. The printing of gazetteers was revived in 1956 under Mao Zedong and again in the 1980s, after the reforms of the to replace the people's communes with traditional . The ''difangzhi'' effort under Mao yielded little results , while the writing of ''difangzhi'' was interrupted during the Cultural Revolution , trumped by the village and family histories which were more appropriate for the theme of class struggle. A Li Baiyu of Shanxi forwarded a letter to the on May 1, 1979, which urged for the revival of ''difangzhi''. Like Chinese gazetteers, there were national, provincial, and local prefecture Korean gazetteers which featured geographic information, demographic data, locations of bridges, schools, temples, tombs, fortresses, pavilions, and other landmarks, cultural customs, local products, resident clan names, and short biographies on well-known people. With additional material and correction of mistakes, the title of this gazetteer was revised in 1454 as the "Sejong Sillok chiriji" , updated in 1531 under the title "Sinj?ng tongguk y?ji s?ngnam" , The Joseon Koreans also created international gazetteers. The "Yojisongnam" gazetteer compiled from 1451–1500 provides a small description for 369 different foreign countries known to Joseon Korea in the 15th century. Japanese gazetteers preserved historical and legendary accounts of various regions. For example, the provincial gazetteer "Harima no kuni fudoki" of Harima province provides a story of an alleged visit by Emperor ?jin in the 3rd century while on an imperial hunting expedition. Local Japanese gazetteers could also be found in later periods such as the Edo period. Gazetteers were often composed by the request of wealthy patrons; for example, six scholars in the service of the daimyo of the Ikeda household published the "Biyō kokushi" gazetteer for several counties in 1737. World gazetteers were written by the Japanese in the 19th century, such as the "Kon'yo zushiki" published by Mitsukuri Shōgo in 1845, the "Hakkō tsūshi" by Mitsukuri Genpo in 1856, and the "Bankoku zushi" , which was written by an Englishman named Colton, translated by Sawa Ginjirō, and printed by Tezuka Ritsu in 1862. Despite the ambitious title, the work by Genpo only covered 'Yōroppa bu' while the planned section for Asia was not published. B.S. Baliga writes that the history of the gazetteer in Tamil Nadu can be traced back to the classical corpus of Sangam literature, dated 200 BC to 300 AD. Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, the vizier to Akbar the Great of the Mughal Empire, wrote the ''Ain-e-Akbari'', which included a gazetteer with valuable information on India's population in the 16th century.

Islamic world

The pre-modern Islamic world produced gazetteers. Cartographers of the Safavid dynasty of Iran made gazetteers of local areas.

List of gazetteers


Examples of electronic world gazetteers can be found at:
** the GEOnet Names Server provides access to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names' database of foreign geographic feature names.
** for a given city it gives the country, province, population, coordinates, population rank among all towns within the country
** for each country it gives a map and table of provinces with area and population, a map of cities, an alphabetical table of cities, and a table of top cities - tables can be sorted by a column of choice
** for each province it gives an alphabetical table of cities.
** Contains 2,900,000 towns outside the US. For a given country and town it gives coordinates, altitude, weather forecast, and a map showing the position of the town with respect to topography and borders and bodies of water ; it also lists towns which are very nearby, within 3 km, with direction.
*The Alexandria Digital Library at UCSB
***allows searching for any or a specified type of geographical feature within a rectangular area or the whole world, with a name equal to or containing the search term; returns coordinates, country and province with a small scale map.
*The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
**Similar to the previous one, except that not a rectangular area but a country can be specified, and that no map is produced.
**Similar to the previous two, dictionary search, returns coordinates, satellite image and CIA World factbook country map.
*The Fuzzy Gazetteer
**Searches for place names world-wide and can handle variations in spelling, thereby making the searches more robust.
* - Hierarchical administrative subdivision codes
*, also of subnational entities, with some additional info




**Compiled by Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, UK. An online gazetteer of 5,000 plant collecting localities in East Nepal, Sikkim, Darjeeling District, Bhutan and the Chumbi Valley .


**Content from the
**Hosted by




*Gazetteers of Canada
** - from

New Zealand

*, hosted by


* ''W?rterbuch der russischen Gew?ssernamen'' , in 6 volumes. Compiled by A. Kernd'l, R. Richhardt, and W. Eisold, under leadership of Max Vasmer. Wiesbaden, O. Harrassowitz, 1961
* ''Russisches geographisches Namenbuch'' , founded by Max Vasmer. Compiled by Ingrid Coper et al. Wiesbaden, Atlas and Volumes 1-9. O. Harrassowitz, 1964-1981. The additional volume 11 appeared in 1988, ISBN 3-447-02851-3, and an additional atlas volume in 1989, ISBN 3-447-02923-4.

United Kingdom

*National Land and Property Gazetteer
*National Street Gazetteer
**Software provided by Aligned Assets
**Maintained by the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society
*The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland by Francis Groome ; earliest edition appears within
*''Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland'' by Rev. John Marius Wilson
*''Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales'' by Rev. John Marius Wilson
*Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales by J.H.F. Brabner

United States

*USGS Geographic Names Information System
*HomeTownLocator Gazetteer - US physical and cultural features, Census 2000 data
*The U.S. Gazetteer
*American FactFinder
* - from
*, published 1902, hosted by the
*, published 1904, hosted by the
*''Gazetteer of the State of New York''
**by Horatio Gates Spafford, A. M., published by H. C. Southwick, Albany, N.Y. 1813
**by J. H. French, published by R. Pearsall Smith, Syracuse, N.Y. 1860

Thematic Gazetteers

**A catalogue of georeferenced caravanserais/khans and other built facilities associated with long-distance trade routes across Eurasia.
* search engine of the website, based on ''Where Once We Walked'' and using the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex system for approximate spellings of place names
**Searchable catalogue of -populated locales in 19th – and Eastern Europe; features hotlinked map coordinates.

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