Business Beyond the Abyss: Crisis Management, Institutional Memory and Learning
3-5 November 2021, Tübingen, Germany.
The University of Tübingen’s Collaborative Research Center 923 – “Threatened Orders: Societies under Stress” (Germany) – provides funding for an intensive three-day event aimed at PhD students in business history or economic history working on any topic that overlaps with the theme of the school (for more details, see “Further Notes for Applicants” below). Students will, the pandemic permitting, be hosted in the historic town of Tübingen and will present, debate and discuss their works-in-progress with leading international scholars within a world-class university.
The school aims to provide doctoral students with an overview of relevant research and innovative tools and methodologies in the fields of business and economic history, including legal perspectives. It is the third event in this series organised jointly by the Seminar für Neuere Geschichte (Tübingen) and the Centre for Business History in Scotland (University of Glasgow), and this time joined by the Center for Law and Social Science (Emory University School of Law).
The school will take the form of presentations from students (c.25 minutes) and workshops hosted by established experts in the field. The aims of the school are:
1) to deepen students’ understanding of current themes in historical research (and how this can inform their own work);
2) to enhance research skills through masterclasses on methods for researching and writing history;
3) to explore the main theoretical underpinnings particular to business and economic history; and
4) to provide a welcoming and convivial environment in which students can discuss their research with leading scholars and peers.
Students will benefit from the experience of academics from Tübingen and beyond. Confirmed speakers include Prof. Dr. Boris Gehlen (Stuttgart), Dr Daniel Menning (Tübingen) and Dr Christopher Miller (Glasgow). We hope to confirm additional speakers in the coming weeks and months.
Funding will cover flights and/or trains (up to an agreed limit, to be reimbursed after the school), accommodation, lunches, and the conference meal for up to fourteen students. There may also be limited space for applicants who wish to self-fund or who have received funding from their own institution.
Those interested in attending the summer school should e-mail the following documents to the organisers, Dr Daniel Menning (Daniel.Menning@uni-tuebingen.de), Dr Christopher Miller (Christopher.Miller@glasgow.ac.uk), and Prof Rafael Pardo (firstname.lastname@example.org):
1) a brief CV (two pages maximum);
2) a summary of their PhD (two pages maximum); and
3) a title and abstract for their desired presentation topic, which should incorporate one or more major themes of the student’s PhD (one page maximum).
While not required, applicants are strongly encouraged to submit with their materials an example of a work-in-progress (e.g., a draft chapter, article, or working paper), preferably in English, German, or French. Please note, however, that all presentations and discussions will be in English.
The deadline for applications is 15 July 2021. A maximum of 14 funded applicants will be selected and notified shortly afterwards.
Further Notes for Applicants:
Overview of Scope and Aims of the School:
(This overview is only a guide. Students working on similar topics to those listed below are encouraged to speak to Daniel Menning and/or Christopher Miller in the first instance.)
With the COVID-19 virus spreading across the globe and many major economic countries shutting down social life and significant parts of the economy, we have been witnessing an economic contraction ensuing at an astonishing pace as well as an equally swift, though rather more varied, re- start. Though it is too early yet to estimate the effects and predict the duration of the economic difficulties (including, for example, current shortages of raw materials), it is clear that many businesses suffered and many remain in trouble. A significant number most likely will not survive, all governmental bailout packages notwithstanding. While interest in economic crises and their effects on businesses has increased over the past few years, the current conditions will likely give a new boost to research and result in a new thoughtfulness and a recalibration of research methods.
Business and economic history has been at the forefront of explaining some of the major changes in economies and societies – starting with the work of Alfred Chandler in the 1960s. (Chandler 1962, 1977). Nevertheless, with regards to the business history of crises and crisis management specifically, the literature is far less well developed. There are three reasons for this neglect. First, the tradition of business history for several decades, until comparatively recently, was to study the history of individual firms, or less frequently sectors. Indeed, business history was once considered an applied branch of economic history for scholars wishing to move beyond macroeconomic trends. The net effect has been that the literature on firms has been dominated by commissioned histories where the historian is paid by the (surviving) company and given use of its archives. While often extremely valuable, these studies can tend towards “rise and fall” narratives.
Second, where business histories have studied crises specifically, commissioned works can potentially have some further methodological problems. Most obviously, many of the firms survived until at least the point the history was commissioned. Thus, it is perhaps a case of selection bias towards success – or at the very least towards the largest and most important companies (Berghoff 2006). Related to this, the nature of commissioned studies has also drawn criticism: namely, that success is often attributed to management rather than luck, while episodes of failure are attributed to external or unpredictable factors outside of management control.
Third, the causes and aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008 have generated many millions of pages of scholarship and commentary in the last decade, with the effect of prompting historians to draw comparisons with the Wall Street Crash and Great Depression. For instance, Werner Abelshauser (2009) is one of many interested in learning from economic crises explicitly through using the examples of 1931 and 2008. While not every crisis was like 2008 in cause, scale or scope, it is not necessarily a new phenomenon: the 2000 dot-com bubble was compared in much the same way. (Ojala and Uskali 2006). As a result, the stock market crash in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression have become by far the most studied economic crisis in history, with renewed interest from 2008 (Tooze 2019), while the effect of the more regular, smaller scale, economic crises suffered by businesses before and after 1929 is largely neglected.
The current economic conditions promise to bring new momentum to the study of businesses in times of larger and smaller economic difficulties, and we are therefore inviting PhD students working in the areas of business and
– Crisis Management
– Institutional memory
to submit proposals for the summer school.