Barbara Burns talks to Anke Schumacher, the new Editor of one of the MHRA’s oldest publications, the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (ABELL).

Anke Schumacher

BB. Anke, I believe you grew up in South Africa. What was that experience like, and what brought you eventually to the UK?

AS. I was born in Germany, but grew up and was educated in South Africa in a small town south of Johannesburg. Following my passion for literature and languages, I studied English at North-West University (NWU) and later completed a Masters degree focusing on the status of Black South African English in the employment sector.

Growing up in South Africa was an incredible experience. The country’s breathtaking landscapes, abundant wildlife, and diverse cultures left a lasting impression on me. The term ‘Rainbow Nation’ captures its rich multiculturalism which I had the privilege of experiencing firsthand. This broadened my perspective and nurtured my appreciation for different cultures. Witnessing the struggle against apartheid and the subsequent birth of democracy also instilled in me a firm belief in social justice and equality.

Coincidentally, the first year covered by the print edition of ABELL, 1920, was also the year of the first ever flight from London to South Africa: a flying time of 109 hours which in fact spread out across 45 days, thanks to the plane being replaced twice after crash landings in Bulawayo and Wadi Halfa. Today, it can be done in less than a day, but you won't be given knighthoods on arrival.

But despite its advantages, South Africa faces challenges such as socio-economic disparities, and high unemployment and crime rates. In 2006, my husband and I decided to relocate to the UK, where we’ve found happiness and a sense of safety. The UK shares a similar cultural diversity and beauty with South Africa. Though I must admit we miss the warm, sunny South African weather during the long UK winters!

BB. Congratulations on your promotion to Editor of the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature, known as ABELL. Can you tell us a bit about this publication? What exactly is it, how far does it go back historically, and why is it such an important reference work?

AS. ABELL is a comprehensive reference work in the field of English language and literature and is a vital resource for students, scholars, and enthusiasts alike. Its importance stems from its role as a centralized and curated repository of scholarly works. By providing detailed bibliographic information, ABELL helps readers to locate relevant sources, identify key works, and track scholarly discourse within specific areas of interest. The electronic database contains almost a million records, dating back to 1892, and includes publications from all over the world, providing a global perspective on English language and literature studies.

BB. ABELL, as you mention, has an online database, as well as being purchased by many research libraries in hard copy. What are the merits of these two formats? Does the book version still have a purpose in this digital age?

AS. The online database and the hard copy version of ABELL offer unique merits and serve distinct purposes. The online format provides instant access, advanced search capabilities, and up-to-date content, while the book version offers a tactile and historical experience, as well as serving as a backup and enabling readers to make serendipitous discoveries. The fact that ABELL is available in both formats means that researchers have options to suit their preferences and research needs.

BB. You worked for some years on the ABELL team before taking on this new role as Editor, and before that in a related field for ProQuest. How did your professional background before ABELL prepare you for your current job?

AS. As a Senior Editor at ProQuest, which is a global information content and technology company, I was able to gain valuable technological knowledge and skills. In particular, I was involved in processing the regular ABELL data feeds at ProQuest, which introduced me to ABELL from an external perspective. It not only gave me an insight into the content and structure of the bibliography, but also let me gain a comprehensive understanding of the online platform through which ABELL operates.

BB. Finally, what do you do for pleasure?

AS. In my leisure time, I enjoy creative pursuits. Patchwork quilting is a personal favourite, allowing me to express my artistic side, and I’m also keen to start painting lessons in the near future. My love for nature draws me outdoors, especially since relocating recently to the beautiful Isle of Wight with my husband. The island’s stunning scenery offers us countless opportunities to immerse ourselves in the beauty of our surroundings.

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