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Developing The International Encyclopedia of Geography

"Crossing Borders"

A column by Doug Richardson, Executive Director, Association of American Geographers

photo of Doug RichardsonI am pleased to announce that the Association of American Geographers (AAG) will undertake one of the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching publication projects in the recent history of the fields of geography and GIScience. This will be a 15-volume work, to be published both in hard copy and online, tentatively entitled The International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment, and Technology.

This four-year project will engage geographers, GIScientists, and geographic societies around the globe, and its editors and contributors will reflect the international and interdisciplinary nature of our activities. The sheer scale of this undertaking, in terms of its length, depth, and international scope, has not, to my knowledge, been attempted before.

In-depth entries of up to 10,000 words will allow key topics and concepts in geography and GIScience to be analyzed and presented in ways that recognize their inherent complexity. Annual interactive online updates and extensions to supplemental material and resources will enhance the value of the encyclopedia to the researcher and the user alike. The scope and range of the publication will enable a much fuller discussion of the multiple subdisciplines and perspectives of modern geography than is typically the case in such endeavors and will permit the engagement of interrelated ideas and topics from other closely aligned fields.

Scope and Vision of the Project

The goal of the project is to create the most comprehensive and authoritative in-print and online resource covering a field broadly defined to include

Our vision is that this resource will become the first and foremost location for all those needing scholarly, authoritative information about these fields for decades to come. Initial publication will be simultaneously in print and online.

It will be available to a worldwide audience, which will have a comprehensive, accurate and regularly updated account of the field at its fingertips. The level of information will appeal to everyone from the advanced undergraduate to top scholars in the field. The encyclopedia will provide accessible introductions to basic concepts, as well as sophisticated debates in contentious areas.

Where appropriate, it will bring perspectives from across the spectrum of science, social science, and the humanities to bear on the topics it explains and explores. We also plan to encourage coauthorship by collaborative teams of GIScientists and human and physical geographers to provide comprehensive coverage of cross-cutting topics.

What distinguishes this project from other encyclopedias is that it will be truly international, and it has the institutional support of the AAG and other major geographic associations from around the world. This institutional support will enable the encyclopedia to be updated on an ongoing basis, and as such, it has the potential to become the authoritative reference work in the fields of geography and GIScience for decades to come.

In sum, we intend to provide a serious, comprehensive, scholarly, in-depth, peer-reviewed overview and analysis of these fields for an interdisciplinary audience of scholars, graduate students, advanced undergraduates, professionals, and other interested researchers, as well as the general public. Our goal is to establish, regularly update, and maintain The International Encyclopedia of Geography as the world's leading reference resource for the field—one that genuinely engages the needs of international academic and professional research communities.

Structure and Process of the Project

The International Encyclopedia of Geography will contain approximately 5,000,000 words, or 9,000–10,000 printed and bound pages, in 15 volumes, including an index. More than 1,000 illustrations and color photographs will also be included. The AAG, through its editor in chief and an international editorial team, will be responsible for ensuring that the entries are relevant, accurate, and consistent and, in so doing, ensure that each of the entries and the encyclopedia as a whole are high quality. At least two peer reviewers will assess each entry to ensure that it conforms to well-established standards of scholarly publication and fairly and adequately presents the state of the field for the subject matter.

In consultation with others, the AAG leadership has selected an experienced and distinguished editorial team, which will direct the overall project and guide the way in developing a taxonomy that knits together the research in these fields and provides balanced and comprehensive coverage. The core editorial team consists of an editor in chief and five distinguished general editors, each of whom will work with eight subject-matter section editors who represent relevant subfields and will guide approximately 40 entries each. The core general editors, all of whom have broad networks of contacts in their areas of expertise, as well as strong editorial experience with leading publications, are Michael Goodchild (GIScience and technology), Dick Marston (physical geography), Audrey Kobayashi (human geography), Noel Castree (human-nature interactions), and Weidong Liu (economic geography and regional development); I will serve as the editor in chief.

After considerable care has been taken to finalize the taxonomy of the entries and the choice of contributors, the first drafts will be commissioned. When reviewed and finalized, they should provide a state-of-the-art analysis and discussion written in an accessible style in keeping with the aims of a definitive reference work. In addition to the entries themselves, we anticipate including an editorial introduction, time scale of key developments in the field, lexicon by subject, index, and several appendixes.

We have already appointed a project manager to provide a single point of contact for the editor in chief, general editors, section editors, and contributors and to oversee an online interactive manuscript submission and peer review process. The project manager resides within the AAG headquarters office and assists with project administrative matters.

The International Encyclopedia of Geography will be published in conjunction with Wiley-Blackwell, with which the AAG has recently concluded extensive negotiations and a publishing agreement regarding the project. Distribution of the encyclopedia will explicitly reflect the international scope of the project.

Call for Participation

Significantly, as AAG president Ken Foote recently pointed out, The International Encyclopedia of Geography "will be an influential work for years to come, as well as an important community-building project within the discipline both nationally and internationally." As such, please give careful thought to those leading members of the geography and GIScience communities around the world we might encourage to apply for section editorships to help lead this project. We also will seek to engage younger editors and contributors who are working at the cutting edges of new directions in geography and GIScience, including those who can address the evolving nature and diversity of our discipline and our rapidly changing GIS and related geographic technologies.

There will be ample opportunity for very broad participation by the geography and GIScience community in this landmark project. As we move forward over the next few months with the initial organizational steps, I encourage you to offer your suggestions for candidates for leading editorial roles and authors for the project or to indicate your own interest in being considered as a contributing author or editor. Please submit your ideas or comments to Joy Adams (, AAG's managing editor for the encyclopedia, and she will document and pass these on as appropriate. Special information and discussion sessions also are scheduled for the AAG Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, California, next year for those who wish to learn more about The International Encyclopedia of Geography. Thanks for your ideas and suggestions, and I look forward to working together with you on this most engaging project in the years ahead.

Doug Richardson

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