AOM 2018: Call for reviewers for MH division

As readers of this blog, you may well be attending the Academy of Management conference next year. Please sign up to review for the Management History division in order to review submissions to help our community to grow!

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77th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
August 4-8, 2017
Atlanta, Georgia, United States

Call for Reviewers

We would like to invite all members to sign up as volunteer reviewers of proposals received for the 77th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management. We encourage you to sign up as a volunteer reviewer for the divisions or interest groups (DIGs) that you are planning to submit to, or DIGs you are interested in, or DIGs that you are a member of. Divisions and Interest Groups will also be following up with those of you who have reviewed in the past. Please note that even if you have reviewed in the past, you still need to sign up again to review for the 2017 Annual Meeting.

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Review Period: January 18, 2017 – February 16, 2017

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To sign up, please visit our website. You will have to choose your areas of expertise (keywords) for the divisions or interest groups for which you want to review. The signup process should not take more than 10 minutes. Reviewers are advised to carefully review the reviewer guidelines and resources on the Reviewer Information website.

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Review: The Impossible Necessity of History

Crossposted from: http://howardaldrich.org/2016/05/the-impossible-necessity-of-history/

Howard Aldrich reviews Ged Martin’s “Past Futures”

In terms of data, three problems confront anyone turning to the historical record for evidence about what “happened in the past.” First, throughout most of human history, very little that happened was permanently documented. Hugely significant events went unrecorded or noted with incomplete details using fragile techniques and materials, which disintegrated, burned, and were lost forever. Second, only a minuscule fraction of the population has ever been in a position to actually have their actions recorded. Much of what we do know about the past concerns that vanishingly small segment of the population some have recently labeled the 1%: elites who had the luxury of employing others to document what they did or the resources to create semi-permanent records using materials such as stone or parchment. The vast majority of the population engaged in activities that are now essentially invisible to us, although forensic anthropology and archaeology are pretty good at working with the few artifacts we can find. Third, more problematic is the tendency of those people who did leave records behind to engage in hyperbole, self-aggrandizement, and untrustworthy accounts of the role they actually played in historical events. Although the rise of modern digital technology would seem to have improved matters greatly, Martin argues that the problem still exists, but now on a grander scale. It is simply impossible to know everything that happened in the past.

In terms of model building, contemporary historians are in the unfortunate position of knowing exactly how things turned out. First, scholars are tempted to build their explanations backwards, starting from outcomes and then searching for plausible prior events, continuing back through history until reaching a “satisfactory” explanation. But, they will be working with historical materials left behind from each era by people who had their own theories of why things had happened and structured their documentation accordingly. Second, almost all events have multiple causes.  Prioritizing them and determining how much leverage each exerted on an outcome of interest is nearly impossible, given the data problems mentioned above. Martin compares this task unfavorably to the situation that laboratory scientists work with, which allows them to run multiple experiments, under conditions where they can control many possible causes, and isolate the influence of specific factors. By that test, of course, almost all social science explanations will also fail. Third, and perhaps more important, uncertainty permeates every aspect of human activity, with people facing multiple options at every turn. Even focusing on “decision-making,” as Martin advocates, doesn’t remove the problem of people having only the faintest of ideas concerning what’s going to happen next, given the action they take. Moreover, because we have no way of getting inside the heads of the people who made those important decisions, we can only speculate as to what they were thinking at the time they acted.

The “past futures” of the title refers to the fact that from the perspective of the present, everything in the past could be viewed as the realized futures of people who had little clue as to what was coming next. Today, we are their future, but it is highly unlikely that one any of them foresaw it. In writing history by looking backwards, from the present, it is tempting to make our “known past” part of our explanation by treating it as the intended future of humans who were making decisions about what options to pursue. But of course, lacking clairvoyance, they had no ability to imagine all the possible futures that would unfold. Nonetheless, the temptation to write linear, coherent narratives about why things had to happen the way they did overwhelms most scholars.

But wait, there’s more! Martin also takes historians to task for imposing normative judgments on the actions of historical figures, using contemporary values. The severity of the normative judgment increases, the further back in time the historian travels. He uses the example of people involved in the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as more contemporary examples. Martin’s point is that such normative judgments cloud the construction of analytic arguments, biasing the selection of cases and causal principles.

Despite the incredibly bleak picture Martin draws of the impossibility of historical analysis, he nonetheless concludes his book with the argument that contemporary social scientists “need” historical analysis. Giving up their quest for comprehensive explanations of historical events, historians can instead simply locate events in time and identify their relationships to one another. They can tentatively indicate which events were more significant than others by making comparisons to possible alternatives, now known because we have the luxury of looking backwards. Abandoning the conceit of the superior present, they can remind us that “each succeeding present is merely provisional, nothing more than a moving line between past and future.”

Discerning readers of my blog post will now recognize why I like this book so much: this is a very evolutionary argument, cognizant of the need for humility in building tentative explanations of social phenomenon. “Past futures” are always explicable, if one is willing to commit the kinds of methodological and analytic fallacies that Martin points out. Don’t go there. He argues that contemporary historiography has plenty to do, without falling into the trap of building “neat and tidy” explanations. Instead, historians can make us aware of our own ethical standpoints and caution us against ransacking the past for justifications of currently favored policies. The future awaits us, but it is probably not the one that we envisioned, nor could we.

Video Games & Historians

I cannot say that I am a big gamer (or a gamer, full stop…), but even I have heard of “Sons of Rome” and other video games that are built around a historical epoch. But as this is increasingly falling into the remit of what is now known as Public History, it is perhaps not surprising that historians and “Assassin’s Creed” are now mentioned in one headline. Though having done my PhD in a department of history, I am still quietly amazed by this article:

Bob Whitaker, a historian of modern Britain at Louisiana Tech and the host of the YouTube series History Respawned, recommends Assassin’s CreedSyndicate, the entertaining new Ubisoft game set in Victorian London. He likes the way it successfully captures the feel of the British capital in the 19th century, and he particularly likes the way the game depicts the Thames River as crowded with industrial traffic. But he still has some nits to pick.

Whitaker fact-checked the game from a historian’s perspective during an interview I conducted for my podcast, Shall We Play a Game?. You can listen to the podcast here. The excerpts below have been condensed and edited.

Minor spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate follow here.

Book reviews in organizational history

The NEP-HIS blog features a number of interesting book reviews in the area of business and organizational history, which might be of interest, for example:

How the Internet Became Commercial: Innovation, Privatization, and the Birth of a New Network by Shane Greenstein (2015, Princeton University Press) Marc Levinson for The Wall Street Journal (November 23, 2015).
Carmen Nobel for Forbes (November 2, 2015).
for Kirkus (November 1, 2015).
Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution (October 23, 2015).
(Circulated 2016-06-01)
Faxed: The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine by Jonathan Coopersmith (2015, John Hopkins University Press) Conor Farrington for Times Literary Supplement(September 18, 2015).
Carla Nappi for New Books in History (podcast, 60 min) (July 17, 2015).
[with thanks to Jonathan Coopersmith]
(Circulated 2015-11-18)
Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong by Morten Jerven (2015, Zed) Laura Seay and Kim Ye Dionne for The Washington Post(September 11, 2015).
Katrina Manson for Financial Times (September 6, 2015).
for The Economist (July 25, 2015).
Alex de Waal for African Arguments (June 24, 2015).
(Circulated 2015-09-17)
Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism by Bartow Elmore (2014, W. W. Norton) Marc Lenvinson in The Wall Street Journal (November 21, 2014).
Beth Macy in The New York Times (January 2, 2015).
(Circulated 2015-01-22)

For more information visit: https://nephist.wordpress.com/book-reviews/

 

Popp’s history of an entrepreneurial family

It is always great to see the work of colleague’s reviewed by scholars outside organizational history, and this one is a particularly charming and insightful discussion into how private history, organizational process and those of us who research those things can be closely intertwined:

Emotional Historians? A review of Andrew Popp’s Entrepreneurial Families

What happens when historians fall in love with their subjects? Love is supposed to make us blind, isn’t it? Does this mean we can’t write ‘objectively’ about the object of our fascination and affection? I am regularly besotted by some of the people I study, from the good (the adorable Northumbrian engraver, Thomas Bewick) to the bad (William Ettrick, the wife-beating justice of the peace), to the lovely (Mary Robinson, who seduced theatre audiences, princes, and her readers).

ShawJSSa

It is not just individuals. I fell for a whole family while researching my last book Parenting in England; the Shaws: John and Elizabeth who grew a family and a successful business in Staffordshire in the first half of the 19th century. Reading their correspondence through their courtship and marriage (1811-1839) created a powerful picture for me of the couple’s admirable characters, their loving relationship with each other and their children and parents, and – in fact – the appeal of the minutiae of their daily lives.

If you’d like to read the full review, click here.