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Literary Criticism: MLA vs ABELL

MLA vs ABELL: What's the difference?

MLA (Modern Language Association) International Bibliography:

  • Coverage: 1926—present.
  • Includes:  articles from journals, books, chapters in books, conference proceedings, dissertations, etc.
  • International in scope.
  • Includes some full-text.
  • Links to Journal Locator (via GettIt button) if item is available in print at Musselman Library or in another online database Musselman Library subscribes to.
  • Easy link to Musselman Interlibrary Loan Request form.
  • “Problems” with MLA: 
    • From 1921 to 1980, “thematic” subject headings (ex. feminist approach) and titles of literary works were not used for indexing items.  Generally speaking, the only subject headings used during this time to index items were major concepts such as the author’s name, the time period they wrote in, and a national descriptor.  (Ex., American Literature, 1800-1899, Chopin, Kate).  Some descriptors have since been added to the database for items published prior to 1980, however not exhaustively.  So, if you are using a thematic subject heading in a search or a title of a work as a subject, your results will likely include mostly items post-1980. 
    • Prior to 1956, MLA was mostly limited to articles written by American scholars covering English, Romance, Germanic, and American languages and literature. 
    • Does not index book reviews.
    • MLA indexes author by given name rather than by pseudonym (ex., Charles Lutwidge Dodgson rather than Lewis Carroll).
    • Works focused exclusively on classical Greek and Latin literatures, the Bible, or the Koran are excluded except as they relate to other literature or language topics.
    • Works on the teaching of language, literature, and rhetoric and composition at the college level are listed. Works solely on secondary school teaching are excluded unless they contain significant discussion of postsecondary teaching.


ABELL (Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature): 

  • Coverage: English language literatures from 1892—present. 
    • Better coverage of years 1892-1955 than MLA for English language literature.
    • The first print volume of ABELL was published in 1921 (covering items published in 1920); online coverage now includes some content back to 1892.
  • Includes:  periodical articles, books, chapters of books, dissertations, book reviews, collections of essays, etc.
  • Includes some full-text and will link out to JSTOR if article is available there.
  • Includes book reviews.
  • Indexes pseudonyms and an author's given name.
  • "Problems" with ABELL:
    • Prior to 2001, no indexing of themes or titles of literary works  (some terms have been added retrospectively back to 1990).
    • Does not include education and pedogogical subjects.
    • Does not show if an item is available in Musselman library.
    • No link to ILL form.


Additional Notes:

 (from James L. Harner’s Literary Research Guide, 5th ed, New York: MLA, 2008, pgs. 45-51)

  • MLA is a more efficient resource to search for post-1980 publications.
  • Regardless of where one begins, any search of MLA must be complemented by a search of ABELL, and vice versa, for each includes scores of works omitted from the other.
  • Used together, ABELL & MLA will lead researchers to the bulk of scholarship since 1921 on the English language and literatures in English.‚Äč