A gazetteer is a geographical dictionary or directory, an important reference for information about places and place names (see: toponymy), 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 provided by gazetteers include the location of places, dimensions of physical features, population, GDP, literacy rate, etc. This information is generally divided into overhead topics with entries listed in alphabetical order.
Gazetteers of ancient Greece existed since the Hellenistic era. The first known gazetteer of China appeared by the 1st century, and with the age of print media in China by the 9th century, the Chinese gentry 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 Stephanus of Byzantium 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 Web.
The word was occasionally used in newspaper titles (for example, see The York Gazetteer), although it has long since fallen out of fashion.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the "gazetteer" as a "geographical index or dictionary". It includes as an example a work by the British historian Laurence Echard (d. 1730) in 1693 that bore the title "The Gazetteer's: or Newsman's Interpreter: Being a Geographical Index". Echard wrote that the title "Gazetteer's" was suggested to him by a "very eminent person" whose name he chose not to disclose. For Part II of this work published in 1704, Echard referred to the book simply as "the Gazeteer". This marked the introduction of the word "gazetteer" into the English language. 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 Jacobite movement.
Since the 18th century, the word "gazetteer" has been used interchangeably to define either its traditional meaning (i.e., a geographical dictionary or directory) or a daily newspaper, such as the London Gazetteer.