Hinterland is a German word meaning "the land behind" (a city, a port, or similar).[1] The term's use in English was first documented by geographer George Chisholm in his Handbook of Commercial Geography (1888).[2]

Etymology and usage

The term hinterland has several meanings. It may refer to:

Geographic region

  • An area behind a coast or the shoreline of a river. Specifically, by the doctrine of the hinterland, the hinterland is the inland region lying behind a port and is claimed by the state that owns the coast.[3]
  • The area from which products are delivered to a port for shipping elsewhere is that port's hinterland.
  • The term is also used to refer to the area around a city or town.
  • More generally, hinterland can refer to the rural area economically tied to an urban catchment area. The size of a hinterland can depend on geography, or on the ease, speed, and cost of transportation between the port and the hinterland.[4]
  • In shipping usage, a port's hinterland is the area that it serves, both for imports and for exports.
  • In colonial usage, the term was applied to the surrounding areas of former European colonies in Africa, which, although not part of the colony itself, were influenced by the colony. By analogous general economic usage, hinterland can refer to the area surrounding a service from which customers are attracted, also called the market area.
  • In German, Hinterland is sometimes used more generally to describe any sparsely populated area where the infrastructure is underdeveloped, although Provinz (analogous to province) is more common. In the United States, and particularly in the American Midwest (a region of German cultural heritage located far from ocean ports), it is this meaning and not the one relating to ports that predominates in common use. Analogous terms include "the countryside", "the sticks", "the boonies", backcountry, boondocks, the Bush (in Alaskan usage), and the outback (in Australian usage).

Breadth of knowledge

A further sense in which the term is commonly applied, especially by British politicians, is in talking about an individual's depth and breadth of knowledge of other matters (or lack thereof), specifically of academic, artistic, cultural, literary and scientific pursuits. For instance, one could say, "X has a vast hinterland", or "Y has no hinterland". The spread of this usage is usually credited to Denis Healey (British Defence Secretary 1964–1970, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1974–1979) and his wife Edna Healey, initially in the context of the supposed lack of hinterland of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.[5]


  1. ^ Hinterland – pons.eu, Pons Online Dictionary
  2. ^ Definition of the term hinterland on Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com
  3. ^ Douglas Kerr (June 1, 2008). Eastern Figures: Orient and Empire in British Writing. Hong Kong University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-962-209-934-0. 
  4. ^ Allan Woodburn, Hinterland connections to seaports, unece.org, January 23, 2009. Accessed 2009.10.01.
  5. ^ See, for example, Roy Hattersley's review of Edward Pearce's biography of Healey, and Healey's autobiography Time of My Life (1989).