EBHA Summer School 2017 – Report

September saw the 9th edition of the European Business History Association’s biannual doctoral summer school, held in the Italian city of Ancona. This year I was fortunate to be attending myself and, having heard the endorsements of previous alumni, was looking forward to a week of stimulating content, some late summer sun, and of course the famous food of the Marche region. The summer school, in its third year in Ancona, was being hosted by the Università Politecnica delle Marche, whose picturesque Economics department was to be our home for the week.

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Facoltà di Economia, Ancona

Along with their annual congress, the school constitutes the EBHA’s main effort in their aim to develop the academic discipline of business history. The school seeks to attract talented junior historians and social scientists to the broad scope of business history, encouraging further study of the history of organizations, markets and the people impacted by them. The school, fundamentally international in nature, has developed a reputation for facilitating long lasting friendships within the field and providing a safe, friendly, but ultimately rigorous atmosphere within which to promote and engage with doctoral research.

After introductions, the school was opened by Andrea Schneider, who lead a session on heritage and storytelling through the lens of German corporate history. In dealing with these concepts, we discussed their diverse uses and features, not only amongst researchers but also by companies themselves. We finished by deliberating some of the ongoing challenges and opportunities of business historic research, particularly in relation to digitalization and the changing nature of sources. We then had a thought-provoking presentation from Grietjie Verhoef on business history within Africa, discussing the challenges of the Chandlerian perspective within the context of Africa, as well as the continent’s distinct development trajectory and the factors that impact upon it. We finished by identifying some key aspects of business in Africa, along with possible research agendas for the future.

Harold James initiated proceedings on the second day with a lecture on the nature of capitalism. Here, he engaged in a stimulating analysis of the dominant perspectives of capitalism, as well as a number of assumptions and institutions we’ve come to take for granted. After lunch, Abe de Jong ran a session on business history methods, which developed on our own uses of business history to show the diverse schema of motivations and contexts within which it’s pursued. Through a process of categorizing personal statements about our work, Abe argued that at least five distinct types of business history research existed within the school’s cohort alone! Following this, the faculty ran an informative and lively round table on publishing, which covered the various roles, processes and traditions that exist within the journal environment.

The third day was opened with a session on business history and management research, led by Ludovic Cailluet. Here, the focus was on understanding the differences between the mainstream of management research and that of business history, covering the expectations, characteristics, and preferences of both. Jeffrey Fear’s afternoon session on the integration of history and business in taught programmes provided a wider platform of discussing the teaching aspect of academic careers. He highlighted the value that can be gained by using historical cases within the management school curriculum, as well as concepts of a more economic or commercial nature within the history department. Andrea Colli finished the afternoon with a talk on multimedia case studies. Although widely inspiring, the audience was particularly impressed with his example of an in-house video production for a case study of Venice as a commercial center. Dinners were always a fine affair, but this evening was particularly special.  Venturing out of Ancona en masse, we traveled up the hillside overlooking the Adriatic to a secluded and scenic restaurant, where a excellent meal was had by all.

Deviating from the chronology briefly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the student presentations, which formed much of the week’s schedule. I was personally very impressed, not only by the presentations themselves, but also the engaging discussions which consistently followed them. The reach and impact of business history is something that was been made especially clear to me over the week, and it was interesting to talk with students and faculty from outside the business school environment. Amongst the topics discussed: the history of the South African Stock Exchange, 20th Century Dutch ship building, and the Berlin inter-war fashion industry. This, however, notes just a few of the areas we covered, not to mention the diverse approaches to business history used in researching them. Talking to me after to summer school, EBHA president Ludovic Cailluet, said “ I really enjoyed the diversity of perspectives and the richness of research being developed by these PhD students as much as the informality of the interactions.”

The final day started with a session from Marten Boon about geography and business history. Here, Marten drew on Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis and the Chicago case to highlight the interrelationship between industrial clusters and the rural ‘nature’ we tend to juxtapose it with. He then provided a summary of his own work on the Rhine region’s oil infrastructure development, highlighting both his fascinating research and the innovative resources drawn upon in conducting it. On the final afternoon, we headed across town to the Biblioteca Amatori, where Franco Amatori gave an impactful talk on the nature of a history of capitalism. Following this, the students and faculty were treated to a reception at the Biblioteca to mark the culmination of the school’s 9th iteration. The discussions continued well into the evening, and eventually spilled out into the city’s Piazza del Plebiscito, where a convivial time was had discussing life, research, and much in-between.

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Students and Faculty at Biblioteca Amatori

On behalf of all the students, I would like to thank the EBHA, the faculty, and the organizing team (particularly Veronica Binda and Roberto Giulianelli) for their investment in making this school such a success. Not only was it an incredibly valuable experience, but a hugely enjoyable one too. I am confident many friendships have been forged and that we, the students, will take much from the week into our research and wider careers.

NB – The EBHA Facebook page has a number of posts relating to the school along with photographs of the week’s events. https://www.facebook.com/EuropeanBusinessHistoryAssociation/

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ESRC Nostalgia Seminar Report

The fifth seminar in ESRC funded series on organizational history took place in a rather damp Birmingham on Wednesday 15th June. With the key theme of the day being Nostalgia, one might have forgiven the delegates a wistful look back to the June days of their past. Nonetheless, sprits were high despite the weather and our off-campus location alongside the canals of post-industrial Digbeth provided a fitting setting for the day’s programme.

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The first speaker for the day, Yannis Gabriel (University of Bath), initiated proceedings with a fascinating look at the role of nostalgia as a supporting feature of right-wing ideology. Moving away from his previous perspectives on nostalgia as a relatively benign phenomenon, the research instead focuses on those times where its existence can be leveraged for the aggressive promotion of a return to a past seen as better. Based on this, Yannis argues that nostalgia fuels authoritarian ideologies and movements by constructing the past in mythical terms that is free from the features of modern society that such groups see as undesirable.

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Following on from this, Constantine Sedikides (University of Southampton) shared his studies on the relevance of organizational nostalgia in work meaning. These looked at nostalgia as a factor in the reduction of employee turnover as well as observing the benefits it can provide to those suffering from burnout. Constantine goes on to suggest that where there are high levels of burnout, organizational nostalgia gives a rich source of meaning that is of benefit to employees work experience.

IMG_20160615_135434After lunch, Agnès Delahaye (Université Lumière Lyon II) started the afternoon session off with her presentation on usable pasts and the role nostalgia plays as a device for promoting an author’s version of a given history. The research centred on the writings and historiography  relating to the founding and development of New England. It is ultimately suggested that at times, history as a practice of caring about the truth, rather than a discourse, is idealistic.

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Eva Heesen’s (Leibniz Universität Hannover) followed with her research on the role of nostalgia within museum exhibitions and the
vistors’ use of such exhibitions as a form of mental escape. The talk highlighted the importance of balancing the educational role of museums with the need to provide an emotional experience to visitors. Her paper argues for nostalgia as escapism, which is seen as an indistinct longing for a recognizable but notably different version of reality.

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The final session by Marie MacLean (University of Bath) and Charles Harvey (Newcastle University Business School) focused on the uses of oral history and narrative interview techniques within business history. The research explores the use of such methods as way to capture subjective experience and in doing so looks at nostalgia of East Germans for the time before reunification with West Germany.

Thank you to all the speakers, session chairs and the delegates for the engaging and lively imput throughout the day. Announcements regarding the sixth seminar in this series will be published shortly and will be posted here on the Organizational History Network. For further information on the above presentations please follow this link – Fifth ESRC seminar series in Organizational History – Abstracts

Nostalgia & History Seminar Abstracts

With just over a week to go before the fifth ESRC Seminar Series event, here are the abstracts for the day’s presentations. There’s still time to register for the event and details on how to do so can be found below.

Here’s a link to a PDF with the abstracts for the below titles Fifth ESRC seminar series in Organizational History – Abstracts

Nostalgia old and new – Contrasting the sentimental with the xenophobic faces of nostalgia, Yiannis Gabriel, University of Bath

Organizational Nostalgia Increases Work Meaning: The Moderating Role of Burnout, Constantine Sedikides, University of Southampton

Nostalgia and Museums – Invaluable Tool or Curse? Eva Heesen, Leibniz Universität Hannover

Nostalgia, Metaphor and the Subjective Understanding of Identity Transition, Mairi Maclean, University of Bath and Charles Harvey, Newcastle University Business School

As an ESRC funded seminar, attendance is free. Please register here and enter the code ABS1. If you have any questions, please contact the organizers: Prof Stephanie Decker (s.decker[at]aston.ac.uk) or Mr Adam Nix (nixaj[at]aston.ac.uk).