The hinterland is the land or district behind the borders of a coast or river. Specifically, by the doctrine of the hinterland, the word is applied to the inland region lying behind a port, claimed by the state that owns the coast. The area from which products are delivered to a port for shipping elsewhere is that port's hinterland. Contrast foreland, the places to which a port ships.

Etymology and usage

The word has been borrowed from German, where it literally means the land behind (a city, a port or similar). In English, the term was first used in 1888 by George Chisholm in his work Handbook of Commercial Geography. In German this word also describes the part of a country where only few people live and where the infrastructure is underdeveloped. The direct analogy in English is "back country". See also The Bush of Alaskan and Australian usage.

In shipping usage, a port's hinterland is the area that it serves, both for imports and for exports. The size of a hinterland can depend on geography, but also on the ease, speed, and cost of transportation between the port and the hinterland.

By analogy, it is the area surrounding a service from which customers are attracted, also called the market area.

It was applied also to the surrounding areas of former European colonies in Africa, which, although not part of the colony itself, were influenced by the colony.

A further sense in which the term is commonly applied is in talking about an individual's depth and breadth of knowledge, specifically on cultural or scholastic matters. For instance, one could say 'X has a vast hinterland'.


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