Abstract: Historical Methods and the Study of Innovation in Action: A Collaborative Research Project on Innovation Management

Elizabeth Brake


The Innovation Working Group at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business is engaged in a study of innovation management by leading U.S. corporations. This study employs the methodologies of historical research and analysis, particularly oral history. Research of this nature offers exciting opportunities for the historian, such as substantial access to company managers and to internal documents. But it also imposes real limits, enshrined in confidentiality agreements, which historians do not often encounter. This paper describes our methodology in action and offers some reflection on what historians can learn from participating in multidisciplinary management studies that, due to the nature of the evidence, will not allow for typical historical studies and publication. It concludes that historians have a particular interest in and a unique perspective on innovation. Collaborative research that reaches atypical audiences and that inflects our teaching and research agendas is essential if we are to ensure that our perspectives reach today's business and social innovators.