Coleman Prize 2019
From the ABH Newsletter:
The Coleman Prize 2019 was awarded at the Association’s Annual Conference hosted at Sheffield Hallam. This year’s finalists were Joe Lane who completed his PhD at the London School of Economics and Leigh Gleason who completed at De Montfort University. They both presented key findings for their PhD Dissertations in a plenary session. Joe’s dissertation entitled, Networks, innovation and knowledge: the North Staffordshire Potteries, 1750-1851, whilst Leigh’s is, Canvassed and Delivered: Direct Selling at Keystone View Company, 1898-1910.
The panel selected Joe Lane as the winner of the 2019 Coleman Prize! Congratulations to him and Leigh for two excellent dissertations and presentations.
Reflections on ABH 2019
Joseph Lane, Coleman Prize Winner 2019
The Steel City shone brightly this summer for the Association of Business Historian’s Annual Conference. Sheffield Hallam University, and in particular, John Singleton, hosted delegates for two days of academic discussion on business history topics ranging from trade, risk and war in the Early Modern period, and digital disruption from the late twentieth century. Nestled amongst striking architectural reminders of Sheffield’s historic relationship with business and industry, the modern Cantor building served as a hub for the conference, and a venue for lively conversation over refreshments and lunches. As a northerner and researcher of industrial clusters, I couldn’t help but notice the aptness of the site of one of the most iconic historic British industrial clusters (and my old stomping ground as a kid) was the setting for a gathering of business historians engaged in discussion, debate and collaboration. I feel it is my duty to invoke Marshall: business and industry were once again ‘in the air’.
This was my second ABH conference after my introduction to the association at the 2016 conference in Berlin as a PhD student. Having missed two years, I was pleased to be back in at the deep end attending as a panel co-chair and presenter, and potential Coleman Prize nominee (my thanks to the Association for selecting my work as the winning thesis!). A jam-packed schedule over both days emphasised why we gather each year: to promote and celebrate the study of business history, in all its varieties. This year did not disappoint; a total of fifty-nine papers were presented across twenty panels alongside a Keynote, and book-ended by the Tony Slaven Doctoral workshop and the Corley Paper Development Workshop for Early Career Researchers. A truly eclectic conference programme.
Top marks to the organising committee who selected the timely conference theme, ‘Business Transformation in an Uncertain World’, that captured and framed research on topics including the complexities and uncertainties of warfare and its aftermath, trust (or lack thereof) in the upper echelons of management and attempts to rebuild it, and female entrepreneurship and family firms in nineteenth-century Britain.
2007 Coleman Prize Winner Professor Stephanie Decker delivered a thought-provoking Keynote (an incentive for me to work hard!). Her lecture spoke directly to the conference themes of uncertainty and transformation. An intriguing delve into African advertising at Barclays Bank DCO in the 1950s revealed corporate strategy and legitimisation practices in the context of decolonisation and Africanization. A lesson in the value and use of corporate archives.
I was sad to miss the session devoted to innovative methods in business history (my own session ran at the same time). One of the characteristics that first attracted me to business history, and continues to do so, is the multiplicity of approaches that business historians are willing and able to adopt and draw on. Papers on transatlantic trade were rich with detail from seventeenth-century personal correspondence, close case studies of armaments and shipbuilding in Britain and Finland used photographic evidence from the first half of the twentieth century, and the appointment diaries of Margaret Thatcher were analysed using quantitative network analysis.
All this thought-provoking talk and research left delegates hungry and thirsty, which stood us in good stead for a short trip across the city for our reception and dinner on the first day. A good meal and chance to unwind after a long day sparked off interesting and wide-ranging conversations. Of the many conversations I had at the conference, two stand out – one about the importance of research grants and the digitisation of archival sources, and another about Harry Potter studio tours (I’ll leave the readers to determine which was with an old PhD colleague and which was with an ABH committee member!) The main point being the ABH is a place where PhD students, archivists and business historians (novice and experienced) meet and dispense with formalities to discuss that which we do and love: interpretation of the past.
My final reflection on this year’s conference is one of collegiality and warmth. From the many cups of coffee enjoyed with others during the breaks, to the reception and dinner, by way of rigorous and intriguing paper presentations, it was easy to find a friendly face. As the new academic year begins, I look forward to Nottingham in 2020 and my role as chair of the Coleman Prize Committee. Save-the-date for what promises to be another judicious conference theme: ‘Bubbles and Crises; Mayhem and Misery; Corruption and Disruption’