AskDefine | Define gazetteer

Dictionary Definition

gazetteer n : a geographical dictionary (as at the back of an atlas)

User Contributed Dictionary


Etymology 1

, from etyl fr gazetier

Etymology 2

From The gazetteer's: or newsman's interpreter, a geographical index edited by Laurence Echard, 1st ed. published 1693. In 1704, in the second volume Echard referred to the work as Gazetteer.


  1. A geographic dictionary or encyclopedia, sometimes found as an index to an atlas.

Extensive Definition

In his journal article "Alexander and the Ganges" (1923), the 20th century historian W.W. Tarn calls a list and description of satrapies of Alexander's Empire 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 Babylon as not yet partitioned 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 (1596) of the Tudor era English cartographer and topographer John Norden (1548–1625) had an alphabetical list of places throughout England with headings showing their administrative hundreds 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 (fl. 6th century) while also noting influence in his work from the Thesaurus Geographicus (1587) by the Belgian cartographer Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598), 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 (d. 1730) gazetteer of 1693, it too became a universal geographical dictionary that was translated into Spanish in 1750, into French in 1809, and into Italian in 1810.
Following the American Revolutionary War, United States clergyman and historian Jeremy Belknap and Postmaster General 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 Britain in the 19th century, with publishers such as Fullarton, Mackenzie, Chambers and W & A.K. Johnston, many of whom were Scottish, 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 (2008) National Gazetteer (for Scotland), 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 Bästas Bilbok" (1969), a road atlas and guide for Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark.

East Asia


In Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD) China, the Yuejue Shu written in 52 AD is considered by modern sinologists and historians to be the prototype of the gazetteer (Chinese: difangzhi), 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 (960–1279), yet the bulk of surviving gazetteers were written during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Gazetteers from this era focused on boundaries and territory, place names, mountains and rivers, ancient sites, local products, local myths and legends, 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 prefects.
In 610, after the Sui Dynasty (581–618) united a politically divided China, Emperor Yang of Sui had all the empire's commanderies prepare gazetteers called 'maps and treatises' (Chinese: tujing) 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 earliest extant Chinese maps date to the 4th century BC, and tujing since the Qin (221–206 BC) 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 Chinese dynasty.
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 Emperor Zhenzong. Furthermore, the fangzhi were almost always printed 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 Department of Arms, the Tang Dynasty cartographer Jia Dan (730–805) and his colleagues would acquire information from foreign envoys about their respective homelands, and from these interrogations would produce maps supplemented by textual information. Even within China, ethnographic information on ethnic minorities of non-Han 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 (mostly Miao peoples) 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 Chinese gentry towards the traditionally lower merchant class. 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" ('Gazetteer of the Qing Empire'). This was provided with a preface in 1744 (more than a decade after Jiang's death), revised in 1764, and reprinted in 1849. while comprehensive world gazetteers were later tanslated into Chinese by Europeans. The Christian missionary William Muirhead (1822–1900), 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 Canton in the "Yuehaiguanzhi" ('Gazetteer of the Maritime Customs of Guangdong') published in 1839 (reprinted in 1935). The Chinese language gazetteer "Haiguo tuzhi" ('Illustrated Gazetteer of the Sea Kingdoms') by Wei Yuan in 1844 (with material influenced by the "Sizhou zhi" of Lin Zexu) 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 Deng era to replace the people's communes with traditional townships. The difangzhi effort under Mao yielded little results (only 10 of the 250 designated counties ended up publishing a gazetteer), while the writing of difangzhi was interrupted during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), 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 CCP Propaganda Department 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" ('King Sejong's Treatise on Geography'), updated in 1531 under the title "Sinjŭng tongguk yŏji sŭngnam" ('Augmented Survey of the Geography of Korea'), 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 Nara era (710–794) provincial gazetteer "Harima no kuni fudoki" of Harima province provides a story of an alleged visit by Emperor Ōjin 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" ('Annotated Maps of the World') published by Mitsukuri Shōgo in 1845, the "Hakkō tsūshi" ('Comprehensive Gazetteer of the Entire World') by Mitsukuri Genpo in 1856, and the "Bankoku zushi" ('Illustrated Gazetteer of the Nations of the World'), 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' (Section on Europe) 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:
  • NGA GEOnet Names Server
    • the GEOnet Names Server (GNS) provides access to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's (NGA) and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names' (US BGN) database of foreign geographic feature names.
  • The World Gazetteer
    • 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.
  • Falling Rain Global Gazetteer
    • 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 (not with respect to other towns); it also lists towns which are very nearby, within 3 km, with direction.
  • EarthSearch
    • Similar to the previous two, dictionary search, returns coordinates, satellite image and CIA World factbook country map.
  • The Fuzzy Gazetteer (European Commission/JRC Digital Map Archive)



  • OKATO (All-Russian Classifier of Administrative Territorial Units)
  • Wörterbuch der russischen Gewässernamen (The Dictionary of Russian Hydronyms), 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 (The Book of Russian Geographic Names), 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

United States

Thematic Gazetteers



  • Asquith, Ivon. "Advertising and the Press in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: James Perry and the Morning Chronicle 1790-1821," The Historical Journal (Volume 18, Number 4, 1975): 703–724.
  • Aurousseau, M. "On Lists of Words and Lists of Names," The Geographical Journal (Volume 105, Number 1/2, 1945): 61–67.
  • Baliga, B.S. (2002). Madras District Gazetteers. Chennai: Superintendent, Government Press.
  • Bol, Peter K. "The Rise of Local History: History, Geography, and Culture in Southern Song and Yuan Wuzhou," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Volume 61, Number 1, 2001): 37–76.
  • Britnell, R.H. (1997). Pragmatic Literacy, East and West, 1200–1330. Woodbridge, Rochester: The Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-695-9.
  • Brook, Timothy. (1998). The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22154-0 (Paperback).
  • Brown, Ralph H. "The American Geographies of Jedidiah Morse," Annals of the Association of American Geographers (Volume 31, Number 3, 1941): 145–217.
  • Brown, Truesdell S. "Herodotus and His Profession," The American Historical Review (Volume 59, Number 4, 1954): 829–843.
  • Celoria, Francis. "Delta as a Geographical Concept in Greek Literature," Isis (Volume 57, Number 3, 1966): 385–388.
  • Fairbank, J.K. and S.Y. Teng. "On the Ch'ing Tributary System," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Volume 6, Number 2, 1941): 135–246.
  • Floor, Willem and Patrick Clawson. "Safavid Iran's Search for Silver and Gold," International Journal of Middle East Studies (Volume 32, Number 3, 2000): 345–368.
  • Gole, Susan. "Size as a Measure of Importance in Indian Cartography," Imago Mundi (Volume 42, 1990): 99–105.
  • Hall, John Whitney. "Materials for the Study of Local History in Japan: Pre-Meiji Daimyō Records," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Volume 20, Number 1/2, 1957): 187–212.
  • Harfield, C.G. "A Hand-List of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book," The English Historical Review (Volume 106, Number 419, 1991): 371–392.
  • Hargett, James M. "Song Dynasty Local Gazetteers and Their Place in The History of Difangzhi Writing," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Volume 56, Number 2, 1996): 405–442.
  • Hostetler, Laura. "Qing Connections to the Early Modern World: Ethnography and Cartography in Eighteenth-Century China," Modern Asian Studies (Volume 34, Number 3, 2000): 623–662.
  • Hsu, Mei-ling. "The Qin Maps: A Clue to Later Chinese Cartographic Development," Imago Mundi (Volume 45, 1993): 90-100.
  • King, David A. "Two Iranian World Maps for Finding the Direction and Distance to Mecca," Imago Mundi (Volume 49, 1997): 62–82.
  • Levine, Gregory P. "Switching Sites and Identities: The Founder's Statue at the Buddhist Temple Kōrin'in," The Art Bulletin (Volume 83, Number 1, 2001): 72–104.
  • Lewis, James B. (2003). Frontier Contact Between Choson Korea and Tokugawa Japan. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0700713018.
  • Masuda, Wataru. (2000). Japan and China: Mutual Representations in the Modern Era. Translated by Joshua A. Fogel. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312228406.
  • McCune, Shannon. "Maps of Korea," The Far Eastern Quarterly (Volume 5, Number 3, 1946): 326–329.
  • Miller, Roy Andrew. "Old Japanese Phonology and the Korean-Japanese Relationship," Language (Volume 43, Number 1, 1967): 278–302.
  • Murphy, Mary. "Atlases of the Eastern Hemisphere: A Summary Survey," Geographical Review (Volume 64, Number 1, 1974): 111–139.
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3, Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
  • Pratt, Keith L. and Richard Rutt. (1999). Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary. Richmond: Routledge; Curzon Press. ISBN 0700704639.
  • Provine, Robert C. "Investigating a Musical Biography in Korea: The Theorist/Musicologist Pak Yŏn (1378-1458)," Yearbook for Traditional Music (Volume 32, 2000): 1–15.
  • Ravenhill, William. "John Adams, His Map of England, Its Projection, and His Index Villaris of 1680," The Geographical Journal (Volume 144, Number 3, 1978): 424–437.
  • Schafer, Edward H. (1963). The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A study of T’ang Exotics. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 1st paperback edition: 1985. ISBN 0-520-05462-8.
  • Tarn, W.W. "Alexander and the Ganges," The Journal of Hellenic Studies (Volume 43, Part 2, 1923): 93–101.
  • Taryō, Ōbayashi. "Japanese Myths of Descent from Heaven and Their Korean Parallels," Asian Folklore Studies (Volume 43, Number 2, 1984): 171–184.
  • Thomas, Peter D.G. "The Beginning of Parliamentary Reporting in Newspapers, 1768-1774," The English Historical Review (Volume 74, Number 293, 1959): 623–636.
  • Thogersen, Stig and Soren Clausen. "New Reflections in the Mirror: Local Chinese Gazetteers (Difangzhi) in the 1980s," The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs (Number 27, 1992): 161–184.
  • Vermeer, Eduard B. "New County Histories: A Research Note on Their Compilation and Value," Modern China (Volume 18, Number 4, 1992): 438–467.
  • White, Robert C. "Early Geographical Dictionaries," Geographical Review (Volume 58, Number 4, 1968): 652–659.
  • Wong, H.C. "China's Opposition to Western Science during Late Ming and Early Ch'ing," Isis (Volume 54, Number 1, 1963): 29–49.
gazetteer in German: Gazetteer
gazetteer in Hebrew: גאזטיר
gazetteer in Hungarian: Földrajzinév-tár

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

atlas, biographical dictionary, calendar, casebook, catalog, catalogue raisonne, chemical dictionary, city directory, city editor, classified catalog, columnist, concordance, copy chief, copy editor, copyman, copyreader, correspondent, cub reporter, cyclopedia, desk dictionary, dialect dictionary, diaskeuast, diatesseron, dictionary, dictionary catalog, dictionary of quotations, directory, editor, editorial writer, electronics dictionary, encyclopedia, etymological dictionary, feature editor, foreign correspondent, foreign-language dictionary, general dictionary, geological dictionary, gloss, glossary, gradus, harmony, index, interviewer, journalist, leader writer, leg man, lexicon, managing editor, news editor, newsman, newspaperman, newspaperwoman, newswriter, nomenclator, onomasticon, own correspondent, paragrapher, paragraphist, phone book, phrase book, polyglot, polyglot dictionary, pressman, promptorium, publicist, reader, record book, reference book, reporter, reviser, rewrite man, rewriter, rhyming dictionary, science dictionary, slang dictionary, slotman, sob sister, source book, special correspondent, specialized dictionary, sports editor, studbook, subeditor, synonym dictionary, synonymy, telephone book, telephone directory, terminology, thesaurus, treasury of words, unabridged dictionary, vocabulary, war correspondent, word list, wordbook, work of reference
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