Peter Miskell: Content & Practice of Business History

Last weekend at the Association of Business Historians’ Conference, Peter Miskell (Henley Business School) gave a really insightful talk about the current state of business history. He kindly agreed to share the slides and write up a short summary for the Organizational History Network.

Who are business historians, and what is it that they do? Or more bluntly, what is business history? These are questions that have troubled professional business historians for at least a couple of decades, and to which no clear consensus has yet emerged. In one sense, this doesn’t seem to matter greatly. Business history conferences continue to be relatively well attended, attracting scholars from a range of related disciplines; business history journals are publishing an increasing quantity of articles; and business history related sub-groups are evident within wider scholarly communities such as the Academy of Management, the American Historical Association, and the European Group on Organisation Studies. On this evidence business history is thriving. Yet if pressed to define the intellectual core of the discipline – the central questions it addresses and the methods it uses to tackle them – it is difficult to identify a clear answer on which all can agree. If business historians appear to lack an agreed sense of intellectual mission, they also lack a common institutional home. Those of us who may have the confidence to self-identify as business historians at social gatherings are not, as a rule, employed in departments of business history. Within our workplaces we are often lone scholars, and in many cases our identity as business historians co-exists with (or is subordinate to) another disciplinary identity. In this sense business history is not an academic disciplines on a par with, say, economics or psychology or communication studies. It is a sub-discipline, but it is not entirely clear (even among its practitioners) what it is a sub-discipline of.

Rather than attempting to identify the core intellectual identity of business history, or to outline a grand vision of how the (sub-)discipline should develop in the coming years, perhaps it would be more useful to pause and take stock of what the business community actually looks like. Where is it that business historians actually work? Who pays their (our) salaries? What are the institutional ‘rules of the game’ within which they (we) work?

In attempting to address these questions I decided to set myself the simple task of finding out which academic departments business historians are affiliated to. Academic departments in universities, I would argue, constitute the key institutional structures within which most intellectual disciplines function. Different academic disciplines have their own institutional norms and conventions, which are typically learned and reinforced within academic departments through mechanisms such as recruitment practices, mentoring, tenure and promotion systems. In most cases the health (and viability) of these departments is measured by their ability to attract students. (There are some countries where departments are also explicitly measured on the quality of their research outputs, but these provide indications of reputation or prestige rather than of financial viability). Departments which fail to attract a sufficient volume of students are at risk of closure or merger, as exemplified by the fate of many departments of economic history in the UK. This means that business historians (like most academics) ultimately make a living through their teaching rather than their research. And since there are very few students applying to study business history degrees (and thus no departments of business history), this in turn means one of two things for business historians: either they need to teach business history in such a way as to make it relevant and interesting to students whose primary focus is elsewhere; or they need to teach subject matter that would not normally be regarded as business history at all (which might be marketing, entrepreneurship, strategy, or perhaps 19th century literature, or 20th century European history). The types of academic departments within which business historians find themselves may be more a matter of necessity than of choice. Mapping out the institutional contexts within which business historians work is an important step in understanding the nature of the discipline, and the challenges (and opportunities) with which it is presented.

The way I have chosen to do this is by collecting data on every article published in the three leading business history journals during the five year period from 2013-2017. In each case the first-named author has been identified, along with their home institution, their academic department, as well as information about the article itself (period, sector and geographical focus of the study). Not all of the authors identified this way would identify themselves primarily as business historians (though much the same could be said of many people who attend business history conferences). By looking at those individuals who have taken the trouble to submit their research to the main business history journals, and whose work has been accepted after a process of peer review, we at least have access to a community of scholars who have shown a willingness to engage in ideas and debates that are of interest to business historians.

I do not pretend that the methodology employed here constitutes a comprehensive census of business history around the world. The exclusive focus on English language journals is one obvious limitation, the focus on journal articles rather than books is another. But the trends which emerge are, I think, important ones. I hope the slides that accompany this post, at least provide some empirical evidence in relation to claims and assertions that are often made about business history, and the institutional contexts within which it is conducted. I plan to work this up into a paper for publication (perhaps in one of the three journals referred to here), but in the meantime would be very happy to receive any thoughts or comments from those who are interested.

Peter Miskell, Henley Business School, UK

 

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2018 Hagley Prize winner

Hagley Museum and Library and the Business History Conference are pleased to announce the 2018 winner of the Hagley Prize:  Matatu:  A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi (The University of Chicago Press, 2017) by Kenda Mutongi of Williams College.   Hagley Museum and Library and the Business History Conference jointly offer the Hagley Prize awarded to the best book in Business History (broadly defined) and consists of a medallion and $2,500.  The prize was awarded at the Business History Conference annual meeting held in Baltimore, Maryland, April 7th, 2018.

The prize committee encourages the submission of books from all methodological perspectives.  It is particularly interested in innovation studies that have the potential to expand the boundaries of the discipline.   Scholars, publishers, and other interested parties may submit nominations.  Eligible books can have either an American or an international focus.   They must be written in English and be published during the two years (2017 or 2018 copyright) prior to the award.

Four copies of a book must accompany a nomination and be submitted to the prize coordinator, Carol Ressler Lockman, Hagley Museum and Library, PO Box 3630, 298 Buck Road, Wilmington DE  19807-0630,  The deadline for nominations is November 30, 2018.   The 2019 Hagley Prize will be presented at the annual meeting of the Business History Conference in Cartagena, Colombia, March 16th, 2019.

 

New history piece in AMR!

I am very pleased to see Alistair’s work on how history reframes our understanding of institutional logics in print, especially in AMR. Congratulations!Academy of Management Review Vol. 43, No. 2Articles

Practice, Substance, and History: Reframing Institutional Logics

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2015.0303

 

Roger Friedland’s characterization of institutional logics as a combination of substance and practices opens the door to a more complex reading of their influence on organizational life. His focus suggests attention to feelings and belief as much as cognition and choice. In this article I use history to develop these ideas by paying attention to the perennial features of our embodied relations with the world and other persons. Historical work draws our attention to neglected domains of social life, such as play, which can have profound impacts on organizations. The study of history suggests that such institutions have a long-run conditioning influence that calls into question accounts that stress individual agential choice and action in bringing about change. Analytical narratives of the emergence of practices can provide the means to combine the conceptual apparatus of organization theory with the attention to temporality of history.

ToC: BH 60,5 SI on Institutional Change

Special issue in: Historical research on institutional change

Special issue introduction: Historical research on institutional change
Stephanie Decker, Behlül Üsdiken, Lars Engwall & Michael Rowlinson
Pages: 613-627 | DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2018.1427736

Interfield Dynamics: Law and the creation of new organisational fields in the nineteenth-century United States
R. Daniel Wadhwani
Pages: 628-654 | DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2017.1346610

Moral dividends: Freemasonry and finance capitalism in early-nineteenth-century America
Pamela A. Popielarz
Pages: 655-676 | DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2016.1248946

Hey DJ, don’t stop the music: Institutional work and record pooling practices in the United States’ music industry |
Neil Thompson
Pages: 677-698 | DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2017.1308485

Managing the paradox of unwanted efficiency: The symbolic legitimation of the hypermarket format in Finland, 1960–1975
Jarmo Seppälä
Pages: 699-727 | DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2017.1304540

Change dynamics in institutional discontinuities: Do formal or informal institutions change first? Lessons from rule changes in professional American baseball
Aya S. Chacar, Sokol Celo & William Hesterly
Pages: 728-753 | DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2017.1342811

From data problems to questions about sources: elements towards an institutional analysis of population-level organisational change. The case of British building societies, 1845–1980
Olivier Butzbach
Pages: 754-777 | DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2016.1274304
Corrigendum

Correction to: Interfield Dynamics: Law and the creation of new organisational fields in the nineteenth-century United States
Pages: x-x | DOI: 10.1080/00076791.2018.1432458

Article discussion: Reinventing entrepreneurial history

The NEP-HIS blog, had Nicholas Wong (Newcastle Business School) discuss a piece by Dan and Christina (my co-editors here at OHN):

Reinventing Entrepreneurial History

By R. Daniel Wadhwani (University of the Pacific, USA) and Christina Lubinski (Copenhagen Business School, Denmark)

Business History Review, 2017, 91 (4): 767-799

The executive editors of Business History Review have given free access to this article for a limited time.

Please find the review and link to the article here http://www.nephis.org

 

 

 

 

 

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Colin Mayer on the Future of the Corporation

Last month Professor Colin Mayer, Peter Moores Professor of Management Studies at the Saïd Business School, spoke at an event to mark the launch of the Global History of Capitalism (GHoC) project. For more information, follow this link:

https://globalcapitalism.web.ox.ac.uk/article/professor-colin-mayer-history-and-future-corporation-global-history-capitalism-launch-event