eResource of the month: International Encyclopedia of Human Geography

Each month we spotlight one of our databases to highlight the range of resources available to our users.

On encountering the word ‘geography’ one tends to think of the physical world. At least, I do. I think instinctively of the location of countries around the globe and capital cities, followed perhaps by features of various landscapes then maybe aspects of climate and weather. Indeed ‘Physical Geography’ is a core first year undergraduate module here at Durham and the various programmes on offer are peppered with modules on topics like climate change, glaciers, landscapes, rivers, oceans, mountains and other physical features of the Earth’s environment. But geography is as much about humans as it is about the landscapes we inhabit and, indeed, ‘Human Geography’ is another core module taken by our first year undergraduates with its themes also running through the degree programmes on offer.

Human geography is the study of the characteristics and relationships among peoples and their landscapes. Human geographers examine the patterns and processes that have shaped human use and their understanding of Earth’s surface and how that surface has, in turn, shaped human experience.” (1)

One of the key resources supporting teaching and research on this topic for the past decade and more has been Elsevier’s ‘Global Encyclopedia of Human Geography’. Originally published in 2009 this multi-authored, 12-volume reference work has provided students and researchers alike with a credible, authoritative and academically sound alternative to Wikipedia, offering definitions and pithy overviews of hundreds of granular facets of human geography.

Indeed, the publication currently features in 14 different reading lists across multiple departments and was accessed more than seven thousand times during 2020 and 2021 combined.

But technologies – and associated areas of research – move on apace and it was increasingly apparent that the original publication was becoming somewhat long in the tooth. Durham’s research-led educational offering embraces cutting edge topics and tutors began lamenting this encyclopedia’s lack of coverage in innovations like big data, citizen science, geolocation and in changes in disciplinary thought like decolonization, anthropocene, and algorithmic governance. Elsevier published an updated 2nd edition in 2019 and ‘turnaway’ statistics (a record of times people were denied access to a resource because they were not yet entitled to view it) indicated members of Durham University were initially turning to this familiar publication to teach or learn these topics, but being left disappointed.

Happily, this summer Durham University Library & Collections was able to secure a permanent purchase of the now 14-volume current 2nd edition so our students and researchers continue to have access to the most up-to-date and comprehensive coverage on the topic of human geography. The modern revisions mean the publication remains of use not just to geographers but to students of sociology, social science, cultural studies, development studies, gender studies, economics, health studies, planning, and politics.

You can access the entire encyclopedia from its entry in Discover, so you can browse it directly, but each of the individual entries can also be found when searching ‘Discover’ for keywords, which will take you directly to the most relevant entries for the particular topics you wish to learn, such as this example on Digital Feminism, for instance.

  1. Lerner, A.W. (2021) ‘Human Geography’ in Nemeh, K.H. and Longe, J.L., eds., The Gale Encyclopedia of Science, 6th ed., vol. 4, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2257-2258, available: [accessed 22 Dec 2022].

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