Phylogeography is a young, vigorous and integrative field of study that uses genetic data to understand the history of populations. This field has recently expanded into many areas of biology and also into several historical disciplines of Earth sciences. In this review, I present a numerical synthesis of the phylogeography literature based on an examination of over 3000 articles published during the first 20 years of the field (i.e. from 1987 to 2006). Information from several topics needed to evaluate the progress, tendencies and deficiencies of the field is summarized for 10 major groups of organisms and at a global scale. The topics include the geography of phylogeographic surveys, comparative nature of studies, temporal scales and major environments investigated, and genetic markers used. I also identify disparities in research productivity between the developing and the developed world, and propose ways to reduce some of the challenges faced by phylogeographers from less affluent countries. Phylogeography has experienced explosive growth in recent years fuelled by developments in DNA technology, theory and statistical analysis. I argue that the intellectual maturation of the field will eventually depend not only on these recent developments, but also on syntheses of comparative information across different regions of the globe. For this to become a reality, many empirical phylogeographic surveys in regions of the Southern Hemisphere (and in developing countries of the Northern Hemisphere) are needed. I expect the information and views presented here will assist in promoting international collaborative work in phylogeography and in guiding research efforts at both regional and global levels.