CL-- Geography, Cartography, Travel

Lexikon der Geographie: in vier Bänden [Encyclopedia of Geography in Four Volumes]. Ed. Ernst Brunotte. 4 vols. Heidelberg; Berlin: Spektrum, Akademischer Verlag, 2001–2002. x, 426, vi, 462, vi, 462, vi, 224 p. ill. 25 cm. ISBN 3-8274-0416-9 (set): EUR 571.00, ISBN 3-8274-9417-7 (set + CD-ROM): EUR 856.50 (Licensed ed. also published by the Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt: EUR 483.00) [02-2-431]

The Lexikon der Geographie is a thematic reference work, not a handbook for regional information, covering both physical and human geography. With approximately 10,000 entries, a multiplicity of topics is treated with academic rigor but in an easily comprehensible style. Unfortunately, bibliographies for further reading are provided only for longer articles. The bibliography in volume 4 does not obviate the need for such reading lists, since it includes primarily reference books and textbooks. A relatively large number of images, tables, and maps provide vividness and clarity to the text. In general, the Lexikon has been carefully edited; a sampling of the entries shows very few errors in contents or terminology. Most of the fourth volume is devoted to an index. Despite some puzzling typographical conventions, it provides good access to topics in the body of the dictionary. The software for the CD-ROM version is the same as that used for the Lexikon der Kartographie und Geomatik (see RREA 8:230) and takes getting used to. The CD-ROM edition is cumulative; only the last CD includes the complete work. The Lexikon der Geographie fills a major gap in the category of geographical reference works and is a worthwhile purchase for any academic library despite the high price. [hdw/vh]

Geographische Namendatenbank Österreich [Database of Geographic Names in Austria]. Ed. Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kartographische Ortsnamenkunde. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2000. CDROM. ISBN 3-7001-2941-6: EUR 34.26 [02-1-141]

This new edition of the Geographisches Namenbuch Österreich [Book of Geographic Names in Austria] (1975) will give users an unpleasant surprise: the database can be run only on computers on which Microsoft Access 97 or 2000 (available only in the Office Professional package) has been installed. The Help pages are cryptic, making use difficult for all but those who have a fundamental knowledge of databases, and navigation among the different categories of content is troublesome. To the user who can master the technical challenges, the database does offer a wealth of information, such as variant names, guides to pronunciation, geographical coordinates, altitude, and a variety of statistics (although not all data fields are searchable). In principle, the appearance of this standard work as a database is welcome; however, the technical problems with delivery of the electronic format need to be corrected. [hdw/mjc]

Dictionnaire des pays et provinces de France [Dictionary of the Territories and Provinces of France]. Benedicte Boyrie-Fénié and Jean-Jacques Fénié. Bordeaux: Sud Ouest, 2000. 349 p. 24 cm. (Références). ISBN 2-87901-367-4: FF 120.00

An RREO Original Review

As geographic perceptions and realities shift at the dawn of the 21st century, the authors contend that the French are losing precious knowledge about their country. Although the major geological and climatological characteristics remain unchanged, French territory is experienced differently than it was 50 or 100 years ago. To be sure, shifting boundaries and perceptions are not new; France only achieved its basic hexagonal configuration in 1860, and from 1950 onward she has joined her neighbors in slowly constructing a larger international geographical region, the European Union. National boundaries have become less tangible realities.

Awareness of the original historical, geographical, and linguistic nature of many French regions and localities has diminished for a variety of reasons. Recent legislation reorganized the country into 22 administrative regions, some uniting older entities. Economic and demographic realities have changed with urbanization and the decline of agriculture as the principal rural industry, and the disappearance of peasant farmers, former guardians of the land. The advent of rapid transportation (e.g., the TGV train, able to traverse many regions in a single hour), and the homogenization of construction and architecture have obliterated changes in the landscape. Awareness of the diverse and historic past is confined to a barely glimpsed signpost on the autoroute. Moreover, the emphasis on geography and history—longtime staples of French education—has declined, while the breadth and superficiality of media culture replace a narrower but deeper knowledge. The new Europe-centered internationalism also directs attention away from local realities and loyalties.

To combat this loss of memory, the authors of this brief survey aim to summarize for a broad audience the fundamental geographical, historical, and linguistic identity of 546 French pays. These are drawn from the 300 basic divisions of Gaul and the entities that resulted from subsequent divisions in the Carolingian and later eras into counties, ecclesiastical dioceses, provinces, and gouvernements. The current départements—created in 1791 by the revolutionary Constituent Assembly without regard for geographic, economic, or cultural realities—as well as the administrative regions of the late 20th century, are not treated separately, but are noted for each territory.

The introduction briefly traces a history of the word pays and its various meanings. First, it denotes a geographic and administrative division. Second, it connotes a familiar homey space, the object of attachment; during the Third Republic, the French were encouraged to love this petite patrie [little fatherland] in order to love the larger patrie, the Nation. The third and more contemporary sense equates pays with state or country. The authors note other vaguer usages, such as a region under a certain economic or political regime, as well as commercial and political ones. The word is, for example, a reassuring marker for the traditional and authentic in products such as cheese, wine, or bread du pays. State and local governments have their “country policies” which serve in the allocation of funds and programs.

In tracing the evolution of geographical and administrative entities, the authors note that the 300 plus tribal territories of the Gallo-Roman era formed the fundamental structures that underlay most subsequent divisions or appellations: the numbers and size of these counties, provinces, and such administrative units as intendances or généralités remained fairly close to those of the people French textbooks traditionally call “nos ancêtres les Gaulois” [our ancestors the Gauls].

The body of the guide identifies each pays according to these categories: département(s), administrative region, principal communes, principal waterways, Gallo-Roman city, diocese, province during the Ancien Régime, older forms of the name, etymology of the name, linguistic zone, the name’s spelling in this zone, and a brief geographical and historical description. Occasional bits of poetry, legend, culture, or other lore enliven these entries. Thus we learn about “lo vent de la mort” [the wind of death] in the Gévaudan, and that the Gex region shelters bedroom communities for Geneva.

The entries are complemented by a general index, an index of pays and provinces by département, and a short bibliography. Over fifty maps illustrate the guide. These present the basic divisions in various eras from the Romans to the Revolution, as well as the zones where different dialects predominate. Others throughout clarify particularly complex geographical relations.

The conciseness of the guide and the clarity of structure recommend this work for research libraries, though much of the information can be found dispersed in other sources. As a testimony to current changes and notions of French identity, it has additional interest.

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Last update: March 6, 2006 [BG]
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