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A Short History of Hans Zell Publishing

The Hans Zell Publishers imprint 1 (later Hans Zell Publishing) was launched in Oxford in 1975 with the publication of the first issue of the quarterly African Book Publishing Record (ABPR). Initially this activity was combined with representation and distribution for a small number of African publishers. These included Ravan Press, one of the leading opposition publishers during South Africa’s repressive apartheid days, and the (then) substantial list of the East African Literature Bureau (now Kenya Literature Bureau). Two other journals were also published in the early days of the imprint: the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, taken over from Oxford University Press (and now published by Sage, and Current Contents Africa published on behalf of the Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek, Frankfurt am Main. The first book title was The African Book World & Press: A Directory/Répertoire du Livre et de la Presse en Afrique published in 1977, with separate editions simultaneously published in the USA, France, and Germany. Three more editions of this comprehensive compendium on the African book professions were subsequently published.

In 1980 the Hans Zell Publishers list was acquired by the Munich-based K.G. Saur Verlag, one of Europe’s leading reference book publishers, who also had offices in London and New York at that time, and for whom Hans Zell continued to develop the imprint. In 1989 K.G. Saur was subsequently subject of a takeover by Butterworths, the major legal, academic and professional publisher owned by the British publication and communications group Reed International, and the imprint data then became ‘Hans Zell Publishers, an imprint of the Bowker-Saur division of Butterworths, Part of Reed International plc’! This became something less of a mouthful, and was later simply called Hans Zell Publishers - an imprint of Bowker-Saur. In addition to further expanding the list of reference books and monographs in the African studies and African literature fields, the list was then diversified through also publishing in area studies other than Africa, as well as developing a list of reference works in the fields of human rights, and refugee and migration studies. Among the latter, An Atlas of International Migration, by the late Aaron Segal and published in 1993, was one of the most successful titles ever. 

The Hans Zell imprint was terminated by Bowker-Saur/Reed Reference Publishing in 1997, on the grounds that the list no longer fitted into the portfolio they were developing, i.e. mainstream library science publishing. Three journals, at that time The African Book Publishing Record, the International African Bibliography (both now published by de Gruyter Journals and African Studies Abstracts (now freely accessible as an online journal at, together with rights and stocks of the fifth edition of African Books in Print/Livres Africains Disponibles, were sold to K.G. Saur, who had earlier split with Bowker/Reed and had become part of the Gale group and the Thomson Corporation. (Walter de Gruyter, based in Munich, later acquired K.G. Saur Verlag in 2006.)

A short association with James Currey Publishers in Oxford – the leading imprint of academic books on Africa – then followed from 2000 to 2002, although only two new titles were published during that period.

Following the termination of the Hans Zell Publishers list by Bowker-Saur, Hans Zell relocated from Oxford to Lochcarron in 2000, a small remote village in the Northwest Scottish Highlands, and from where he continued the imprint (now called Hans Zell Publishing) through the publication of a small range of new reference titles on Africa, African publishing, and African studies. One reference resource published during that period, the 4th edition of The African Studies Companion. A Guide to Information Sources, was selected as an ‘Outstanding Academic Title’ of 2006 by Choice magazine, published by the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. Five new titles/editions were published between 2002 and 2008, but publishing activities have now ceased.

A total of 115 titles (including new editions) were published under the Hans Zell Publishers imprint, first as an independent publisher, thereafter under different owners of the imprint, and as an independent again as from 2002. This substantial publishing output primarily consisted of African studies and African literature reference resources, as well as three monograph series in the field of African studies and African literature. A small number of reference works in disciplines other than African studies were also published. Many were acclaimed reference tools compiled and edited by Africana librarians and renowned African studies and African literature scholars in various parts of the world. Hans Zell Publishers titles have been winners of the Conover-Porter Award – awarded biennially by the Africana Librarians Council of the (US) African Studies Association for “the most outstanding achievement and excellence in Africana bibliography or reference work” – on no less than six occasions, and one was the recipient of the UK Library Association’s Besterman Medal.

During the period from 1987 to 1998 Hans Zell also published on behalf of several institutions, international organizations, research centres, and NGOs as follows:

Africa-Studiecentrum, Leiden University
African Association for Public Administration and Management, Nairobi
African Centre for Applied Research and Training in Social Development, Tripoli
Centre for Modern African Studies, University of Warwick
Centre of African Studies, University of Liverpool
European Consortium for Political Research, University of Essex 
International African Institute, London
International Congress on African Studies/ICAS V, Ibadan
International Peace Research Institute, Oslo
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, DC
Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, Utrecht University
Refugee Studies Programme, University of Oxford
Southern African Research Service, Johannesburg
Standing Conference on Library Materials on Africa/SCOLMA, London
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa/UNECA, Addis Ababa
World Association for Christian Communication, London
Writers and Scholars International Ltd/Index on Censorship, London

A tradition of excellence in African studies reference sources

"It is always a pleasure to pick up a new reference work one knows will prove dependable.  Zell's publications give a good measure of that kind of satisfaction." James C. Armstrong – CHOICE  (Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association)

“The overall contribution to research made by Hans Zell Publishers cannot be undervalued by any critical comment on any individual volume, but in fact the volumes offer little, if any, scope for negative comment. The breadth and strength of its bibliographies and research guides are a marvellous contribution to knowledge of a continent which is distinctly difficult to research. Its compilers are from the ranks of the most distinguished Africana bibliographers and librarians, and the resulting products are of the highest quality.” Paul Sturges – Library Association Record

“Each of these bibliographies, which are published in the several series of almost uniquely valuable Africana bibliographies from Hans Zell, marks a milestone in the development of literary, artistic and social affairs in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Michael Wise – Focus on International and Comparative Librarianship


1 For some more information and background about the Hans Zell Publishers imprint see also Hans M. Zell “The Perilous Business of Reference Publishing in African Studies” In: Africanist Librarianship in an Era of Change, edited by Victoria K. Evalds and David Henige. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005, 199-226.  Freely accessible online at