When following a Spectrum procedure, you will often be advised to record something using ‘a standard term source’. But what sources? And where to find them? To help, we’ve drawn up this list of the published term sources we know about, mapped to relevant Spectrum units of information. This is still a working document, and we need your help to fill in the gaps.
There are many published sources covering object names, materials, locations, artists and makers, subjects and historical periods that museums can use in their documentation. You can link to online versions via the resources listed below. We will be adding to this section over the coming months, and are always keen to hear about other terminology resources you might be using or developing.
The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) Techniques Thesaurus was developed in 2017-18 and draws on external lists and MERL’s own terms. It is intended as a complete list for primary terms, with scope for further secondary terms to be added as appropriate secondary term lists are developed, e.g. for weaving technqiues.
The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) Materials Thesaurus was developed in 2017-18 and draws on external term lists and the MERL’s own terms for materials. It is intended as a complete list for primary terms, with some secondary and tertiary terms pre-populated.
The Event Types Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage is an indexing tool to be used for recording archaeological and architectural investigative, data collection exercises; from intrusive interventions to non damaging survey events.
The Evidence Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage includes terminology covering the existing physical remains of a monument, or the means by which a monument has been identified where no physical remains exist.
The Archaeological Sciences Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage is used for recording the techniques, recovery methods and materials associated with the archaeological sciences.
The Components Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage includes terminology covering divisions and structural elements of a building or monument, relating to the built or buried heritage. It also includes terms that describe areas and spaces, decorative features, fixtures and fittings, machinery and implied features.
The Resource Description Thesaurus, jointly developed by the National Trust and English Heritage, includes terminology for archival resource type, format and material (for example, ‘a diary’ and ‘hardcopy > paper’).
The Historic Aircraft Type Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage is an indexing tool to aid the recording of aircraft remains and crash sites, listing aircraft types by form, function and manufacturer.
CONA, from the Getty Research Institute, compiles titles, attributions, depicted subjects, and other metadata about specific works of art, architecture, and other cultural heritage, both extant and historical.
Nomenclature is the standard cataloguing tool for thousands of museums and historical organisations across the United States and Canada. It is currently a hard-copy publication only.
The Dewey Decimal Classification is the most widely used classification system in the world. Libraries in more than 135 countries use it to organize and provide access to their collections.
Mammal Species of the World is a database of mammalian taxonomy organised in a hierarchy that includes Order, Suborder, Family, Subfamily, Genus, Species and Subspecies.
The Index Nominum Genericorum is a compilation of generic names published for all organisms covered by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, and also includes bibliographic citations and information about the typification and nomenclatural status of generic names.
The Building Material Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) includes terms for construction materials for monuments relating to the built and buried heritage.
The Maritime Craft Types Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) includes terms for craft types which survive as wrecks for Historic England’s maritime record and can be used to describe types of ship.
The Maritime Cargo Types Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) includes terms for types of cargo being carried by ships when they went down.
The Maritime Place Name Thesaurus from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) includes terms for maritime ports, countries and bodies of water from and to which ships may have sailed or been registered.
The Archaeological Objects Thesaurus was originally developed by MDA (now Collections Trust) and has been further developed by the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH). It includes terms for physical evidence, usually portable, resulting from past human activity or environmental remains that can be recovered from archaeological fieldwork.
The Defence of Britain Thesaurus was originally developed for the Defence of Britain Project, completed in 2002. It includes types of defensive monuments relating to the 20th century in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Thesaurus of Monument Types from the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) includes terms for types of monuments relating to the built and buried heritage in England.
The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN) is a structured vocabulary, including names, descriptions, and other metadata for extant and historical cities, empires, archaeological sites, and physical features important to research of art and architecture. This controlled vocabulary may be used by someone cataloguing or indexing a collection as it provides preferred names or terms.
The Getty Union List of Artist Names (ULAN) is a structured vocabulary, including names, biographies, related people, and other metadata about artists, architects, firms, studios, museums, patrons, sitters, and other people and groups involved in the creation and study of art and architecture.
The Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) is a non-profit membership group that sets standards for recording the built and buried heritage to ensure consistency in documentation. FISH makes available a number of online thesauri that are regularly updated as new terms are submitted and approved by the FISH Data Standards Unit.
Iconclass is a classification system used by art historians, researchers and curators. It is a hierarchically ordered collection of definitions of objects, people, events and abstract ideas that may form the subject of an image. It is widely accepted as a scientific tool for description, retrieval and research of subjects in images.
The Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) is a structured vocabulary, including terms, descriptions, and other metadata for generic concepts related to art, architecture, conservation, archaeology, and other cultural heritage. Included are work types, styles, materials, techniques, and others.
Connected Earth’s Telecommunciations Object Wiki-Thesaurus gives a common language for telecommunciations objects; primarily designed for people working with telecommunications objects in heritage collections.
This thesaurus reflects the nature of the British Museum collections, and was originally set up as an internal reference tool. Some areas of terminology may be more specific than others, depending on the level of documentation available, or the size of particular collections.
The Materials thesaurus was initially compiled from index terms generated from computer records created using curatorial documentation and the objects themselves. The final listing is not intended as a scientific classification system, rather it is a reflection of the terminology, both current and historical, in use in curatorial departments in The British Museum.
ICOM International Committee for the Museums and Collections of Costume’s Vocabulary of Basic Terms for Cataloguing Costume offers comprehensive guidance on cataloguing costume to ensure that the information contained in each garment in museum collections are recorded clearly.