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Prolegomenon to the Short Courses:

By James L. Weinheimer, Sept. 2000

Go to: Subject analysis
Name and Title Changes

o help grasp the concept of a geographic subject heading, the differences between geographic headings and descriptive headings must be understood.

Many times these forms are the same, but often, they can be different.


L'viv (Ukraine) is the name of a city currently located in Ukraine. As we know, the name of this city has changed throughout the years. How does the cataloger deal with this in the catalog?

For descriptive headings, if we have a collection of municipal laws of L'viv for example, we must do some research into the history of the city before we can assign a descriptive heading. In the case of L'viv, a cataloger has done this for us already, and has added the following information to the NAF record:

L'vov; city in western Ukraine, founded 1256; from 13th cent. to 1772 part of Poland, from 1772 part of Austria and called Lemberg until 1918, from 1918 to 1939 again part of Poland, from 1939 part of Ukraine

From this information, we conclude that the name heading to use depends on the time period. Therefore:

Thus, for our compilation of laws in effect in L'viv, if these laws were in effect in 1900, the name heading will be:

This makes sense, since these are the laws issued by the city government when it was part of the Austrian empire and officially known as Lemberg, not as, e.g. Lwów, as a part of Poland.

For subject headings, (Laws--[May Subd Geog]) the rule is different: only the latest name of the geographic area is used, regardless of time period. The purpose of this rule is for all records of a single geographic area to file together in the catalog. Thus, for the item above, the subject will be Laws--Ukraine--L'viv:

But for a collection of laws of L'viv from 1996, the headings are:

If we think of this in terms of the card catalog, all laws for the geographic area of L'viv will be gathered in one place. This is the way subject headings are supposed to work. All works about one geographic area should be gathered in one area, regardless of the time period.

Sometimes time periods are incorporated into the heading, but they are added explicitly with chronological subdivisions. In this way, items are still gathered together, but subdivided further.

The following example shows how the filing structure for subject headings is used in the catalog.

From 1924-1991, the official name of the jurisdiction was Leningrad, but all subjects get Saint Petersburg (Russia). Thus, a compilation of civil defense guidelines issued by the Leningrad city government in 1942 would get the headings:

Time Frame

The time frame is irrelevant with geographic areas as subjects. Even if a jurisdiction ceases to exist, its geographic area still does. If a book were written about a bicycle trip that someone took in 1999 throughout the area of the Holy Roman Empire, it would be rather strange, but the subject would be Holy Roman Empire--Description and travel, since this is still the latest name of the geographic area.
Extinct cities are similar, such as Tanais (Extinct city). Although there may be only faint traces in the dust, the geographic area still exists.

In a similar way, the apparently nonsensical heading: United States--Antiquities does not describe antiquities relating to the political entity of the United States, but to antiquities located within the geographic area of the United States.

Changing Boundaries

Although a geographic area without chronological subdivision is independent of any time frames, its precise boundaries can vary with time. For example: United States--History--1797-1801 relates to the area of the US as it was at the time, while United States--History--1969- obviously describes the area of the United States as it is today.

Latest Form of Name

Finally, there is the question of which name this geographic area receives. According to the rules, a geographic area receives a single name, and this name is the latest name of the geographic area. This is why Holy Roman Empire can still be used: no other name has ever replaced it. Although the jurisdiction has long since passed, the geographic area continues to exist.

When names change, it can result in catalog maintenance. When Leningrad (R.S.F.S.R.) changed to Saint Petersburg (Russia) in 1991, catalogers had to change their practices, and update all the subject headings in the catalog, e.g.:
All the records with the following headings (which were used before 1991):

Had to be changed to:


had to be changed to:

This was a double change, since Russian S.F.S.R. (the former name of the Russian Federation) changed, too!

Go to:
Russia/Soviet Union/Former Soviet republics:
a short course in subject analysis
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