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TGN: Frequently Asked Questions
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How many terms are in TGN? Tell me about the scope, contributions, and how to obtain TGN data.

Thousands of TGN place names are added and edited every year. As of December 2020, TGN contains 2,550,000 records and 4,100,000 place names.

TGN is not comprehensive; although coverage is multilingual and global, scope is tailored to the needs of the Getty Vocabularies' core audience. The scope of TGN includes names, relationships, place types, dates, and coordinates for places required to catalog, discover, and retrieve information about art, architecture, and other visual cultural heritage, including related disciplines dealing with visual works, such as archaeology and conservation. Visual works include not only works classified as art according to Western aesthetics, but also utilitarian and ceremonial works. For works' information, TGN is used for current location, creation location, discovery location, and subject depicted; for people in ULAN, TGN is used for places of birth, death, and activity. TGN is linked to CONA and IA as well. Development in TGN focuses on the historical world. Types of places in TGN include cities, nations, empires, archaeological sites, lost settlements, and physical features. Alternative names for modern places are included, such as indegenous names and historical names. Read more about Scope and Structure of the TGN, including information about what is excluded from TGN.

Contributions: The Getty Vocabularies are compiled resources that grow through contributions from various Getty projects and outside institutions; please see our Contributions page. Contributors to the Getty Vocabularies include museums, special collections, visual resources collections, art libraries, archives, bibliographic and documentation projects, and large translation projects.

Obtaining the data: The Getty Vocabulary data can be obtained a) on the Getty Web site, free of charge, for searching individual terms and names, b) by accessing XML, relational tables, APIs, and Linked Open Data (LOD). Read about Obtaining the data. All formats are provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust under the Open Data Commons Attribution License (ODC-By) 1.0. The data is refreshed every month.

Does TGN have maps? Is TGN a GIS?
TGN is not currently linked to maps, although the coordinates would allow you to find the places on a map. TGN is not a GIS. While many records in TGN include coordinates, these coordinates are approximate and are intended for reference ("finding purposes") only. TGN is intended to aid cataloging, research, and discovery of art historical, architectural, archaeological, and other scholarly information. However, its thesaural structure and emphasis on historical places makes it useful for other disciplines in the broader Linked Open Data cloud. To combine TGN with GIS information, TGN may be linked to existing major, general-purpose, geographic databases.

How much information is required to identify a place in TGN?
The logical focus of a record in TGN is a place. The minimum record for each place includes a name, a place type, and a position in the hierarchy that shows its parent places (or broader contexts). The name alone does not identify a place because there may be many homographs. For example, there are 145 inhabited places called Springfield in TGN, including the two below (from a Results List in TGN online). Note that recording the state and nation alone would not identify the place; for US data, the second-level subdivision, county, is often required because a single US state could include multiple "Springfields."


Wouldn't latitude and longitude uniquely identify a place? The answer is "no." Single point latitute-longitude data usually represent the center of a populated place or physical feature, with variations, such as marking the source of a river or other linear feature. Bounding boxes or other more complex sets of coordinates also can vary from source to source. While the coordinates may assist in locating the place on a map, or in narrowing down possibilities in matching between data sets, variations in the determination of and expression of coordinates mean that these data cannot uniquely identify places.

Noted places: In order to aid linking in an open environment, for certain places having names that are homographs, the place is flagged in field called Comment with the value "noted" when it is the place to which most references will refer if no broader context is included in the reference. For example, if a resource refers to a place named London, it can be assumed that London, England is in most cases intended if no broader context is included. London (England) is flagged as "noted" in TGN to aid in such matches.

What are the relationships in the TGN?
The TGN includes equivalence, associative, and hierarchical relationships.

  1. Equivalence Relationship. All relationships between names within the same TGN record are equivalence relationships. In the example below, all names refer to the same city, Lisbon, Portugal.
    Among all the names that refer to the place, one is indicated as the default preferred name. This is the vernacular or local-language name most often found in scholarly or authoritative published sources (e.g., the name in bold in the example above). The preferred English name is also indicated. Institutions who wish to use TGN as an authority may use one of these two names to refer to the place consistently.

    Variant and alternate names in the record include names in other languages, names transliterated into the Roman alphabet by various methods, names in natural or inverted form (particularly for physical features, e.g., Etna, Mount), nicknames, official names, and historical names. Misspellings may be included if they are found in published sources.

  2. Hierarchical Relationship. The hierarchy in the TGN refers to the method of structuring and displaying the places within their broader contexts. Hierarchical relationships in TGN represent part/whole relationships and are typically indicated with indention, as in the example below.
    TGN is polyhierarchical, meaning that a place may have multiple parents or broader contexts. This is used extensively for historical places that were part of multiple broader-context states over time. In the modern world, places may also have multiple broader contexts. For example, the US state of Hawaii is administratively part of the United States in North America, but it is physically located in Oceania. One relationships is preferred; the non-preferred relationship is indicated with an [N] in the example below.
    Both physical features (including mountains and rivers) and political/administrative entities (including inhabited places and nations) make up the TGN hierarchy. Major subdivisions of the hierarchy typically include the continent, nation, first level subdivision, second level subdivision, inhabited place, and possibly neighborhood. Most nations have one level of administrative subdivision above inhabited place, and many have two levels. Generally, the hierarchy in the TGN goes only to the level of the inhabited place. However, the level of neighborhood has been included for some of the world's largest cities (as in the example below). TGN will generally not include levels for streets or buildings within the boundaries of inhabited places.
  3. Associative Relationship. Associative relationships may exist between the records for places in TGN. Important historical ally relationships, places requiring special distinguishment to avoid confusion, historical predecessors for modern counterparts, and other circumstances may require associative relationships. For example, if an inhabited place has been physically moved (as when the location has been deemed unsafe due to flood or earthquake), there should be an associative relationship between the original settlement and the new settlement. In the example below, for the record for Ocotepeque, Honduras, the town was originally located to the NE of the current city, but was moved after the Marchala river flooded in 1935 and called Nueva Ocotepeque.

Are dates associated with places in TGN?
Dates for names or place types in TGN are expressed in notes called display dates, which are indexed by the two years that delimit the span of time indicated in the note. Dates may be known to different levels of specificity and varying shades of certainty. In the display date, uncertainty may be expressed. The note is then indexed using start and end dates that delimit the broadest span of time applicable. Since conventions used to describe approximate dates (e.g., circa) may vary depending upon context, this allows flexibility in establishing appropriate date spans for retrieval. Note that start and end dates are recorded in the database but are hidden from the end-user. The examples below illustrate various types of dates.


(for an island, the, exact day of the name designation is known)

(start: 1643, end: 9999)

(for a US state, estimated searching dates for "circa")

(start: 1750, end: 9999)

(for Alexandria, Egypt, estimated searching dates for a century BCE)

(start: -400, end: 9999)

(for Siena, Italy, start date based on life dates of Julius Caesar)

(start: -100, end: 300)

(for Vienna, Austria, estimated searching dates express a broad span of time)

(start: -400, end: 1500)


Where may I find detailed information about fields and editorial policy?

You may consult online extensive discussions of the fields and Editorial Guidelines.

For translation work in the AAT, please see Guidelines for Multilingual Equivalency Work.

A training presentation on Introduction to TGN gives a basic overview. Additional traning materials on >b?all Getty vocabularies are also available.

How does TGN handle cases where a place has unknown parents?
The TGN editorial policy is to publish places only when it is possible to determine their correct hierarchical position; however, there are exceptions. For example, when information about the internal subdivisions of a nation is changing or unavailable. In such cases, the inhabited places for that nation appear under a temporary level (called lost & found in the example below). Often such hierarchical relationships are temporary, as was the case with Guinea-Bissau; currently the hierarchy of this nation is rearranged using administrative regions.


Why and how do TGN records and names change over time?

TGN data changes as necessary, with additions of new data and due to changes in usage over time. Changes to existing data are made only as necessary; it is recognized that changes to preferred terms and hierarchical structure may cause problems for users who rely upon legacy data. The unique subject_ids and unique term_ids, along with the Revision History, allow implementers to keep up with changes.

TGN records are changed primarily for these reasons:

- Loading contributions.
- To add new records (called "subjects" in the database) or to add new names to existing subjects.
- To reflect changes in scholarship or usage of names and their definitions or scope.
- To make the data more consistent throughout. Legacy data and incoming contributed datasets occasionally require changes to existing records in order to maintain the logic and consistency of the whole.
- To place subjects in new hierarchical arrangements, as indicated by changes in the world's administrative subdivisions, or to correspond to geographic standards and primary geographic resources (such as NGA (formerly NIMA)).
- To correct outright mistakes, either arising from contributed data or from editors' past mistakes.

The Getty Vocabulary Program has a very small staff. We rely upon the user community to grow the TGN, and we welcome users pointing out errors or inconsistencies.

Go to the general F.A.Q. for the Getty Vocabularies.

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Updated 20 December 2020

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