Great Britain and Extinct Jurisdictions
Library of Congress
Unlike the United States with its centuries of political stability, much of the world has undergone very substantial changes in boundaries. Often the basis of a country's legal system is the legal system of a previous and no longer existent jurisdiction (typically an empire of some sorts). While a name change is very simple to deal with (LCSH uses the latest form of name, unlike descriptive cataloging which uses the name at the time of publication), LCSH has a problem when it isn't clear if the jurisdiction merely changed name or ceased to exist.
A simple change, e.g., "Siam" becoming "Thailand" is no problem since they clearly refer to the same country. Similarly, the breakup of the Roman Empire (even though some of its agencies still function) is a no-brainer (though from a legal perspective the distinction made between the Byzantine and Roman Empires is questionable since from their legal perspective they were one jurisdiction, which unfortunately lost many of its western provinces). There have been some situations where ambiguity over whether a jurisdiction is "extinct" or has merely changed its name leads to policies that result in headings that make many users think that catalogers have no brains, e.g., the former infamous and unmourned heading: Soviet Union— Foreign Relations—Byzantine Empire. Potentially the most serious problem is self-inflicted: "since the memory of law catalogers runneth not to the contrary" we have insisted that "Great Britain" and "England" were one and the same, which they never were (no matter how much some Anglophiles thought they were)-- in effect we decided that England became extinct in 1707, ignoring that there will always be an England not to mention that there really still is a Scotland.
Many "extinct" jurisdictions were empires who left a significant legal legacy affecting the legal systems of diverse countries that might not be considered as being at all connected by contemporary standards. The law of the "Holy Roman Empire" (not holy, not Roman, not an Empire - but a jurisdiction of critical significance in understanding the evolution of European law) is "extinct" meaning that it is still a valid subject heading. Other extinct jurisdictions (meaning valid subject headings) include Rome, Byzantine Empire and Russia (for the Czarist Empire, reversing the annoying practice of claiming the Soviet Union was the same country with a different name leading to many headings that sounded absurd). Anyone researching a country whose legal system was influenced or derived from an extinct jurisdiction should know to check the ancestral system (thus Roman law is important whether you live in Louisiana, Scotland, South Africa, or Chile, even though you won't be especially interested in all work with a subject subdivision for Italy).
If CPSO decides that a jurisdiction is "extinct," then the heading remains available for subject catalogers. If on the other hand a jurisdiction is considered to have changed its name, the subject heading will be the current form of name (e.g., Rhodesia, see Zimbabwe) as reflected in a note on the name authority record. The problem arises when CPSO claims a jurisdiction has merely changed its name, but there have been more fundamental changes.
A jurisdiction which everyone except LC thinks is extinct is the Ottoman Empire. LC treats it as an earlier name of the modern Republic of Turkey. While this may be true from the perspective of Turkish historians, it isn't true for lawyers. The Ottoman Empire is the basis of the legal system of most of the Middle East including such diverse countries as Algeria, Bosnia, Egypt, Iraq and Israel. Thus a study of Ottoman notary practice in Haifa in the 17th century may end up with a geographic subject heading for "Israel" and/or "Turkey," hopefully with a history heading with a century included (which isn't possible in all cases). Nothing in the heading string will tie it with other works on Ottoman law. One might "cheat" and throw in a heading for "Turkey--History--Ottoman Empire, 1288-1918" but that isn't really "legal" according to the subject cataloging manual. One might propose a heading such as "Law--Turkey--History, 1288--1918" or "Ottoman law" but that would be a deviation from current policy (albeit a user-friendly deviation), especially if it were authorized to be a "second heading" or qualifier for works entered under the standard heading with the 20th century jurisdiction (e.g. Turkey, Yugoslavia, Israel or some other country that didn't exist in the 17th century).
Some other arguably extinct jurisdictions that are alive and well in LCSH include British India (the "Raj", broken up in 1947) which LCSH insists is the same as the current Republic of India, or the Austrian Empire (deceased in 1918) which was a lot larger than modern Austria, but under LCSH no easy distinction is made. If one is studying Pakistani law, one is not especially interested in the law of post-1947 India, but is very interested in the the law of pre-1947 imperial India. Using subject headings it is a problem, especially for 20th century materials (LCSH doesn't allow country-specific periods to be free-floating under topics, so we can't construct a heading such as "Contracts --India--History--To 1947" ). Another solution would be to regard British India as having gone extinct in 1947, rather than the current policy of it having undergone a minor name change and major territory loss. In that case the geographic subheading for imperial India would be different from those of post-independence India.
A similar problem, even if it hasn't become an extinct jurisdiction (yet) is "Great Britain". The law community, reflecting a bias that annoys the non-English British, has insisted on using "Great Britain" for books on the law of England. In effect, law cataloging practice has been to regard "England" as if it changed its name to "Great Britain" in 1707 when it annexed Scotland. Especially as pertains to law, Scotland and England have always existed as separate countries with distinct legal system even though they agreed to a common parliament and in certain cases a common court of last resort, and even though the political reality is that England dominated and many Englishmen regarded Scotland as a mere province rather than as an equal partner. However under any theory of Anglo-Scottish relations, it was totally wrong for the law community to use "Great Britain" for law applicable to all of the United Kingdom as well as law applicable only to England. We goofed.
Under law subject practice there is no way to distinguish between a law book applicable to all of Great Britain or one limited to England . This has always violated LCSH which requires making the distinction, but it is a distinction often overlooked by American and English catalogers (note: I didn't say "British" –Welsh and Scottish catalogers rarely make that mistake). At present we can not distinguish between law books applicable to all of Great Britain, and those applicable only to England. Whereas the usual problem with extinct jurisdictions is general subject cataloging policies that have undesirable impact when applied to legal materials, the decision to use "Great Britain" for books on English law is a dumb idea that originated in and is limited to the law community. Even though it would probably require a massive cooperative effort to correct the bibliographic records, we should undertake to stop using "Great Britain" for the law of England, and to change the existing bibliographic records. Even if "Great Britain" survives as a jurisdiction (as opposed to reverting to two separate kingdoms with a common monarch - the least traumatic form of Scottish independence being advocated) we need to distinguish between books applicable to all of Britain as opposed to only England.