CfP – International Congress on Business History in France

PARIS, 14-16 June 2023 – CALL FOR PAPERS




In France and in the French-speaking world, companies, like their counterparts in the rest of the world, have been experiencing crises and profound transformations in recent years. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has developed in a lightning fashion since the beginning of 2019, has given rise, as it does after every crisis, to numerous analyses on the changes in the economic world. These questions have been rekindled and sharpened, particularly in Europe, by the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, which, in particular, is dealing serious blows to the world trade system and, through it, to the globalisation of the years 2000-2010. As always, many commentators have wondered and continue to wonder whether the ‘world after’ will be the same as before.


Crises, conflicts or wars put companies to the test. They force them to transform themselves and test their resilience. But they also engage the state. The Keynesian resonances of the measures taken in recent times in response to the Covid-19 crisis have contributed to questioning the economic or political models that were previously dominant. They remind us that the state, understood in the broadest sense, is and remains a major player in times of crisis. With hindsight, how can we not think of other periods in history? The cyclical economic crises of the 19th century – that of 1846-47, for example, or the long depression of 1883-1896 – or those of the 20th century – 1921-1922, 1926-27, and even more so the ‘Great Depression’ of the 1930s, or the recurring crises of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, or, closer to home, the shocks of 2007-2009. How can we not also mention the increasingly industrialised military conflicts that led to total war and then to the nuclear age and indirect conflicts between past, present and emerging superpowers? These crises are followed by periods of reconstruction, restructuring and more or less brutal transformations. These questions are not new. Historians, as well as researchers from other disciplines, have already studied these periods and the processes of adaptation, reconversion or mutation of national or regional economies, companies and their respective actors. While some sectors of the economy have resisted or even benefited from the crises, others have suffered to the point of sometimes disappearing to the benefit of foreign actors. New structures, new balances and new ways of thinking or doing things have often emerged from these periods.
What can we learn from History here? The difficulties, or even the collapse of certain sectors constitute a first source of understanding of current events. The historical distance allows us to look back at the concepts, to identify the permanences and contingencies and to reveal the temporalities of these major phenomena. This leads us to question their possible novelty or modernity, and allows us to know what they can generate in terms of ‘transitions’ or ‘resilience’… If there are to be ruptures, where, when, how and why are they likely to appear in the historical dimension? Should we not rather speak of the acceleration of older trends? How do these phenomena question the intellectual frameworks, tools and methods of French business history? Answering these questions is the objective of the second Paris Congress.

In a spirit of intellectual and disciplinary openness, the aim is to bring together as many researchers as possible from different traditions of the humanities. It is sufficient if they place their work in a historical perspective or if they address questions related to the historical dynamics of companies. In addition to collaborations and confrontations between French and foreign teachers and researchers, the objective of this congress is also to encourage exchanges between the academic world and the actors of economic life, both public and private, who are interested in the history of companies, their positioning and functioning, their performance, their structures and strategies, and, more broadly, that of organisations and all those who live and work in them. Finally, the congress logically sets itself the objective of offering, with regard to these objects, the opportunity to reflect on the way in which the history of companies is being made and written today in France or in the French-speaking world.

Three main groups of issues will be addressed.


In line with the preceding questionnaires, three major axes emerge. First, the strengths and weaknesses of French and foreign companies in a crisis environment will be assessed and/or measured. Secondly, the practices and behaviours of French companies in the face of the challenge of change and adaptation should be examined. Finally, the question arises as to whether or not French business history has the tools and concepts to think about transition and resilience today?

1- Strengths and weaknesses of companies – French or foreign – in a crisis environment

In fact, trying to assess or measure the strengths and weaknesses of companies and/or foreign companies implies answering some fundamental questions: what are the constraints they are facing? What strategies are they developing to cope with them or to ensure and/or continue their growth? What impact do these have on structures (governance, forms of ownership)? Have these in turn had an impact on constraints and strategies? Can we therefore identify a French model of organisation and management?

1.1- Constraints
– Weight of national public institutions (State, economic policies, public companies, role of law and social laws, legal and regulatory framework, etc.);
– The issue of national independence;
– Specificities of the functioning of the labour market and social relations;
– Modalities of regulation of markets and competition (prices, standards, norms, lobbies, cartels, business and competition law, etc.);
– Weight of associative and cooperative organisations in the economic dynamic.

1.2- Strategies
– Strategic choices and geographical choices: positioning on the value chain in globalised capitalism;
– French companies and technology (production methods, robotisation, product technology, innovation and research);
– The entrepreneurial and managerial issue (risks versus innovations);
– Training (recruitment of managerial elites, role of engineers, weight of consultants);
– Methods of financing economic activity (banks, capital markets, monetary and financial regulation, etc.);
– Accounting, financial or marketing practices, personnel management.

1.3- Structures
– Governance, forms of ownership (family, shareholding), legal status, control methods;
– Structure and dynamics of investment, research and innovation support policies;
– Existence and/or persistence of a French model (forms of organisation, management styles and techniques, mentalities, values and specific ideologies).

2- French companies facing the challenges of change and adaptation

 It is also desirable to look at the practices and behaviour of French firms in the face of the challenge of change and adaptation: the impact of health crises (and not just Covid-19), the global rebalancing of investment flows (as with the Ukrainian crisis), internal transformations (composition and organisation of companies) and external transformations (impact of data and geopolitical factors), the emergence of new national and international regulation to the point where, both in doctrine and in practice, we can speak of the end of liberalism.

 2.1- The impact of health crises over the long term (from plagues to Covid)

– Lessons from past health crises (even distant ones) on how to manage crises (emergency, sustainable development and pollution, information and communication technologies of yesterday and today, specific contributions of archaeology);

– The place of ethical considerations (regalian power and individual liberties, corporate social responsibility (CSR), etc.)

– New forms of work and organisation, question of minorities and respect for diversity.

 2.2- The global rebalancing of investment flows

– Are we witnessing a change in the historical dynamics of certain French activities on the world markets: return of investments in France and Europe? Refocusing strategy?

– Evolution or adaptation of the weight and role of foreign companies in France.

 2.3- Transformations of the company

– Internal transformations: composition and organisation of companies (gender, visible minorities, positive action);

– External transformations: companies in the geopolitical relations of France with other world economies or other cultural areas (Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, Latin America).

 2.4- Towards a new national and international regulation: the end of liberalism?

– Evolution of regulatory doctrines and policies (from global to local) ;

– Evolution of private (competition, monopolies, cartels, etc.), public (planning, nationalisation, etc.) and mixed (carbon tax, etc.) regulation practices.

 3- Does French business history have the tools and concepts to think about transition and resilience today?

Such questions also imply a methodological dimension: does the history of companies in France have the tools and concepts to think about transition and resilience today? This implies identifying the relevant concepts and frameworks, looking back at the sources and their exploitation, taking into account the accumulated experiences and the new paths that are being outlined today. Finally, in a period of profound transformation in the transmission of knowledge, it has become crucial to consider the question of the publication of research work and results (languages, support, property rights and dissemination of knowledge).

 3.1- Concepts and intellectual frameworks

– Theories and practices of pluri-, inter- and trans-disciplinarity;

– National schools (of history, management, etc.) and methodological approaches, international schools (especially Anglo-Saxon);

– Alternatives between quantitative and qualitative (econometric, institutionalist approaches, etc.);

– Dialogue with “new” actors: archivists, researchers from the human and social sciences – historians, managers, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, etc. -, communication and history companies, lawyers, journalists, journals, newspapers, learned societies and academic associations, think-tanks, etc. How to dialogue?

 3.2- Sources and their exploitation: accumulated experience and new paths

– Risks and challenges for the business historian (accessibility of archives, control, property rights, destruction of archives, new sources, new forms of conservation or valorisation of funds by companies, etc.).

– The practices of corporate history (conservation of the memory, tools for valorisation and communication, training of employees, lever for change, construction of strategy, etc.).

– The impact of new technologies (constitution of archives, conservation, accessibility, communication, rights of use and ownership).

 3.3- Making research results public

– Language and languages (how to speak, role of English, etc.)

– Media (media, journals, publications)

– Intellectual property and dissemination (copyright, open source, etc.)

– Constitution of immediate or very recent corporate memory (archives collected on ongoing crises, oral archives, communication of recent digital archives to researchers, etc.).

4- Eiffel Centenary

In the context of the centenary of Gustave Eiffel’s death, the congress will offer a significant place to works and communications that will address the issues and themes presented in this call for proposals. Papers, sessions or contributions that mobilise sources, history or products related to Eiffel’s career, the history of his inventions and his companies will be welcome. 

Note : to submit a proposal, you must first open an account on SciencesConf site : 

Full thematic sessions:

* Opening: September 23, 2022   Submit a proposal

* Deadline for submission of proposals: January 4, 2023

Individual communication :

* Opening: October 15, 2022   Submit a proposal

* Deadline for submission of proposals: January 9, 2023

Doctoral School :

* Opening of applications: 23 September 2022  Apply for doctoral school

* Deadline for applications: January 9, 2023

Poster session: 

* Application opening: October 28, 2022  Submit a proposal

* Deadline for applications: February 24, 2023

Prize for the best business history book published between 2020 and 2022  and prize for the best PHD dissertation:

Details of these awards.

– Website: