Geographic Encyclopedias

Geographic Encyclopedias


scientific reference works containing a systematized compendium of geographic knowledge.

Geographic encyclopedias contain descriptions of geographic features (continents, countries, regions, population centers, mountains, oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, exploited mineral deposits, and so forth) and characteristics of the development and distribution of industry in countries and regions as well as explanations of theoretical and terminological questions in physical and economic geography. Geographic encyclopedias usually also contain biographical (or biobibliographical) information on explorers, navigators, and other persons noted in geography and on geographic congresses, conferences, societies, and the most important publications. Basic to many geographic encyclopedias are the various types of maps, diagrams, and illustrations. Often these encyclopedias include articles in related fields (geology, biology, ethnology, and the like). Some large geographic dictionaries approximate geographic encyclopedias.

The first important attempt to give a systematized compendium of geographic knowledge, relying on physics and mathematics, was made by the Dutch scholar B. Varenius in his General Geography (Geographia generalis in qua offectiones generalis, Amsterdam, 1650; 2nd and 3rd editions published in Cambridge, edited by I. Newton; in Russia a translation was printed twice: as Geografiia general’naia, nebesnyi i zemno-vodnyi krugi, Moscow, 1718; and Vseobshchaia geografiia, part 1, St. Petersburg, 1790). Although the form in which the material in this work was presented does not meet contemporary standards for encyclopedic publications, it contains general information about the earth—its size, motion (based on the heliocentric system of Copernicus), physicogeographic description, and other data.

In Russia, the first geographic dictionary was published in the second half of the 18th century (F. A. Polunin’s Geographic Lexicon of the Russian State, Moscow, 1773, compiled with the aid of G. F. Miller) and contained in alphabetical order descriptions of rivers, mountains, seas, cities, fortresses, factories, and “other landmarks” of Russia. At the end of the 18th century and in the beginning of the 19th a series of large dictionaries also appeared: K. G. Langer’s Complete Geographic Lexicon (parts 1-3, Moscow, 1791-92), Zh. Ladvok’s Geographic Dictionary (parts 1-5, St. Petersburg, 1791), L. M. Maksimovich’s New and Complete Geographic Dictionary of the Russian State (parts 1-6, Moscow, 1788-89), and A. M. Shchekatov’s Geographic Dictionary of the Russian State (parts 1-7, Moscow, 1801-09; part 1 compiled with the aid of L. M. Maksimovich). An important role in the development of Russian geographic science was played by V. N. Tatishchev’s Russian Historical, Geographic, Political, and Civil Lexicon (parts 1-3, St. Petersburg, 1793, unfinished, completed to the letter k of the Cyrillic alphabet), which included descriptions of provinces, regions, population centers, rivers, lakes, and seas, as well as definitions of terms, such as “longitude” and “gulf.” One of the outstanding dictionaries of the 19th century was P. P. Semenov’s Geographic-Statistical Dictionary of the Russian Empire (vols. 1-5, St. Petersburg, 1863–65), which is still of great scientific and reference value. Such scientists as R. I. Keppen, R. K. Maak, and L. N. Maikov worked on its compilation. The dictionary provides detailed information on the mountain systems, oceans and seas, rivers, provinces, regions, cities and other population centers, factories, peoples, and tribes of Russia. Most of the articles contain long bibliographies, the material for which was prepared by P. I. Keppen. Similar dictionaries were also compiled for separate regions of Russia (for example, N. K. Chupin’s Geographic and Statistical Dictionary of Perm’ Province, Perm’, 1873-88, and dictionaries for the Amur and Primor’e regions).

After the Great October Revolution, in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the USSR began compiling regional encyclopedias—the four volumes of the Siberian Soviet Encyclopedia (Novosibirsk-Moscow, 1929-37; vol. 4 as dummy copy), the first volumes of the Ural Soviet Encyclopedia (Sverdlovsk-Moscow, 1933; vol. 1 containing the first three letters of the Cyrillic alphabet was published), and The Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Central Chernozem Region (Voronezh, 1934; vol. 1 with the first five letters of the Cyrillic alphabet appeared).

In the 1960’s the USSR published the Concise Geographic Encyclopedia (vols. 1-5, Moscow, 1960-66), containing 16,000 articles. Of composite character, it contains articles on the regional geography of the USSR and foreign countries and on theoretical and terminological questions of physical and economic geography and related sciences. A large part of the fifth volume is a name index—a short biographical dictionary of explorers and persons in the geographic and related sciences. The same volume contains a variety of reference information (summaries of statistical data on oceans, seas, straits, archipelagoes, islands, mountain summits, volcanoes, earthquakes, rivers, lakes, major cities, areas under cultivation and the harvesting of major crops, the extraction of minerals all over the world, and so forth). Many articles contain bibliographies. The articles are accompanied by inset color maps (about 130); in addition, about 500 maps and 1,300 illustrations have been included within the text. The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Geographic Terms (Moscow, 1968), with its general geographic character, is intended for teachers, students, and scientific workers. The dictionary contains 4,200 physical and economic geographic terms. Special attention has been devoted to theoretical questions and the newest geographic terms connected with the achievements of Soviet science. There are also terms from such related fields as geology and soil science.

The best known contemporary foreign geographic encyclopedia is Westermann’s Geographic Lexicon (vols. 1-4, Braunschweig, 1968-70—); a similar dictionary, Ewald Banse’s Lexicon of Geography (vols. 1-2, Braunschweig-Hamburg), was first published in 1922-23. The articles of the Westermann encyclopedia are devoted to the features of regional geography, to separate geographic sciences and terms, and to explorers, navigators, and geographers of the world; there are accompanying maps and diagrams. The articles contain thorough bibliographies.

Similar publications are the dictionaries of geographic names published in the USA and Great Britain: The Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer of the World (New York, 1966), Webster’s Geographical Dictionary (Springfield, 1966), and Chambers’ World Gazetteer and Geographical Dictionary (Edinburgh, 1965). The Lippincott Gazetteer has the largest number of entries. From time to time these dictionaries are reprinted, noting the most important changes in the map of the world and of the USA and Great Britain in particular. The articles and references are extremely concise (for example, the article on Africa in the Lippincott Gazetteer covers four columns), but there are many entries (about 130,000 in the Lippincott Gazetteer and 40,000 in Webster’s Geographical Dictionary). Chambers’ World Gazetteer has only 12,000 entries. In one alphabet these dictionaries provide information on various physicogeographic features of the world: cities, countries, natural resources, populations, and so forth. The articles devoted to the USSR are usually incomplete and at times biased. The French New Dictionary of Universal Geography (compiled by L. de Saint Martin and L. Rousselet, vols. 1-7, Paris, 1879-95; Supplement, vols. 1-2, Paris, 1895-1900) contains data on physical, economic, political, and historical geography as well as ethnology.

The Geographic Encyclopedia of the Twentieth Century has also been published in France (Paris, 1950). It contains extremely condensed physical and economic geographic information on the continents, their major parts, and the countries of the world. The text of these articles in essence serves to explain its major part—the illustrations (over 600) and maps (276).

Longmans’ Dictionary of Geography, edited by L. Dudley Stamp (London, 1966), is a popular dictionary intended mainly for students and a wide circle of readers. The dictionary contains information on the most important geographic features of the world, explanations of the major geographic terms (mainly physicogeographic), short biographies of explorers and geographers, and information on geographic societies and the most important publications in geography. A Glossary of Geographical Terms, prepared by L. Dudley Stamp (New York, 1961), is a compendium of definitions of physical and economic geographic terms, which have been extracted from various encyclopedias, reference books, and dictionaries (both general and specialized), and of theoretical works on geography with accompanying references.

Encyclopedias devoted to the individual geographic sciences contain abundant information. Such are The Encyclopedia of Oceanography, edited by R. W. Fairbridge (New York, 1966), and The Encyclopedia of Geomorphology, edited by R. W. Fairbridge (New York-Amsterdam-London, 1968), which contain articles on the most important aspects of oceanography, geomorphology, and related sciences.

Encyclopedias devoted to continents and countries constitute a special group. An example of such an encyclopedia in the USSR is the encyclopedic reference book Africa (vols. 1-2, Moscow, 1963), which first presents a general survey of the continent (natural conditions and resources, ethnic composition and population distribution, history, economics, and culture) and then more than 2,400 articles in alphabetical order describing all the countries of Africa, its separate physical and economic geographic features, peoples, historical and cultural monuments, statesmen, political figures, and explorers. Foreign encyclopedias of this type are The Australian Encyclopaedia (vols. 1-10, Sydney, 1963) and the Encyclopedia Canadiana (vols. 1-10, Ottawa, 1968). The articles in these encyclopedias deal with the nature, population, national economy, health services, and culture of Australia and Canada and contain biographies of leading figures.


Kaufman, I. M. Geograficheskie slovari. Bibliografía. Moscow, 1964.
Zischka, G. A. Index Lexicorum. Bibliographie der lexicalischen Nachschlagewerke. Vienna [1959].
Winchell, C. M. Guide to Reference Books. Chicago, 1967. Pages 441-61.


Full browser ?