Changed Geographic Entities

How do catalogers treat geographic entities such as countries whose names have changed over time and how does one locate materials on these type of subjects?
Geographic entities as subject headings present distinct problems because of name changes. Library of Congress Subject Headings rules and guidelines deal with most name changes as follows:

If the basic jurisdiction remains the same, the policy is to assign only the latest name as a subject heading. For example, although both Ceylon and Sri Lanka are available as name headings, only Sri Lanka is used as a subject heading.

Therefore if a book is cataloged and it contains census information published by the government of Ceylon:

  • – The corporate author entry will be Ceylon
  • – But the subject heading will be Sri Lanka

This seems confusing but it is really useful if one wants books on a particular country and does not know all the previous names of the country.

Likewise all materials on the Belgian Congo or Zaire are now found under Congo (Democratic Republic); and all materials on Newfoundland are now found under Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, when the boundaries of the place have changed the policy varies. In these cases the latest form of the name is not sufficient because the actual scope of the subject heading has changed. Therefore, in the case where the geographic boundaries have changed, both the new form of name and the old form of name may be used as valid subject headings.

Jurisdictions can merge or split:

  • a) For mergers, the cataloger tries to use the latest form of name, unless the book is only about a specific area which was a valid jurisdiction.
    • For example, Malaya merged with other jurisdictions in 1963 to form the nation of Malaysia. The heading Malaysia is used for works on the entire nation. The heading Malaya is used for works discussing the area corresponding to the former jurisdiction Malaya, even though there is no longer any jurisdiction corresponding to that area.
    • A cataloger with a book on Iron Age Germany, would assign the subject heading Germany even though Germany did not exist until the 19th century. Headings for the various jurisdictions that preceded the formation of Germany are used for works discussing those areas individually.
  • b) The other common situation is when jurisdictions split. These can get complicated because the cataloger must keep in mind if the name is still in use for the jurisdiction.
    • If the name is still used for the region, the old name can be used as a subject heading. For example the former French province of Normandy no longer exists, having been divided into several jurisdictions. However the name is still commonly used to refer to the geographic region corresponding to the province. The heading Normandy is used for works on the region corresponding to the former province. Headings for the various jurisdictions now included within the region of Normandy are used for works on the jurisdictions individually.
    • Sometimes there is now an equivalent subject heading. For example, the former administrative grouping of French territories known as French Equatorial Africa was divided into the four independent nations of Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon and Congo (Brazzaville). These four nations are now referred to collectively as French-speaking Equatorial Africa. The subject heading Africa, French-speaking Equatorial is used for works on this area in its entirety. The headings for the present nations are used for works on those nations individually.
    • And sometimes there is no equivalent subject heading but the name for the region is no longer used. For example, the nation of Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The name of the former nation is no longer commonly used to refer to the Czech Republic and Slovakia collectively for the post-split period. The two headings Czech Republic and Slovakia are used for works on the two nations collectively for the post-split period. The heading for the individual nation, Czech Republic or Slovakia, is used for works on one of the nations treated individually.

Finally there are a few complicated geopolitical entities for which the Library of Congress Subject Headings provides additional guidance:

  • For example:
  • Germany as a subject heading has the following scope note: This heading is used for the region and country before or during World War II; the post-war zones of occupation collectively; East and West Germany collectively during the period 1949-1990; or the reunified Germany since 1990.
  • Germany (East) has the following scope note: This heading is used for works on the eastern part of Germany before 1949; the Russian occupation zone; the German Democratic Republic from 1949-1990; or the eastern part of reunified Germany since 1990.
  • Germany (West) has the following scope note: This heading is used for works on the western part of Germany before 1949; the United States, British, and French occupation zones; the German Federal Republic from 1949-1990; or the western part of reunified Germany since 1990.

There are also detailed instruction sheets in the Library of Congress Subject Cataloging Manual – Subject Headings for Germany, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

Most of the examples in this document are from the Library of Congress Subject Cataloging Manual – Subject Headings. 5th ed.

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