Abstract: Historical and Qualitative Methods for Studying Organizations

JoAnne Yates


As business historians have increasingly entered into the business school world, the challenge of explaining historical methodologies in comparison to other methodologies used in studying organizations becomes an important one. This paper explores similarities and differences between qualitative organizational research and historical research. Similarities include the use of case studies and a data-driven empirical approach that builds but does not test theory, as well as a preference for longitudinal rather than cross-sectional approaches. Differences include preferences for recorded documents in business history vs. for observational or oral testimony in qualitative organizational research, and for books in business history vs. articles in organizational research. Finally, the academic genres that shape the writing up of the two types of research lead to significant differences, for example, in how explicitly methods are discussed. The paper ends with consideration of the implications of these similarities and differences for business historians attempting to get tenure in a business school.