Spotlight: Meet the Officers; Incoming (2021-2024) Trustee of BHC, Dr. Kendra Boyd; and second term Trustee (2018-2021) Dr. Peter Coclanis

Meet Incoming 2021-2024 Trustee of BHC: Dr. Kendra Boyd

Kendra Boyd is an Assistant Professor of History at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. She earned a BA in Business Administration from Wayne State University and a Ph.D. in History from Rutgers University-New Brunswick. She is a scholar of African American history, focusing on black entrepreneurship, racial capitalism, migration, and urban history. She is the author of “A ‘Body of Business Makers’: The Detroit Housewives League, Black Women Entrepreneurs, and the Rise of Detroit’s African American Business Community” (Enterprise & Society) and is currently writing a book on black entrepreneurship in Great Migration era Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Boyd also co-edited (with Deborah Gray White and Marisa J. Fuentes) Scarlet and Black, Volume 2: Constructing Race and Gender at Rutgers, 1865-1945 (Rutgers University Press, 2020).

To know more about the BHC Trustees' role, we invite you to read previous Meet the Officers interviews in the BHC’s newsletter. For example, last February, we asked Peter Coclanis about his second term as Trustee (2018-2021). These interviews also contain great advice for new members and young scholars and insightful comments on the state of the organization.

Meet the Officers, Issue 57, February: A series of interviews with the officers of the Business History Conference

The members of the Board of Trustees of theBusiness History Conference are membership-elected officers of the organization. They serve on the board for three years. The board consists of nine Trustees, the President of the BHC, President-Elect, and Past President. They regularly debate on issues of the organization. In collaboration with the BHC Secretary-Treasurer, the Trustees vote on proposals such as modifications to the bylaws,location of the annual meeting, and creation or termination of positions and committees within the organization. Each month I interview one of the officers of the BHC and ask about their views on the service they provide to the BHC. I also want to know more about how their work relates to the BHC and how others can become more active and benefit from being part of the organization. 

For this issue, I interviewed Professor Peter A.Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the GlobalResearch Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has been at UNC-CHsince 1984, the same year he received his Ph.D.from Columbia University. “Broadly speaking,” heads, “my research interests are in economic history, agricultural history, demographic history,and business history. I have pursued these interests in a variety of geographic frames—Global,U.S., and Southeast Asian, most notably—focusing on the early modern and modern periods. I am working on several projects right now, including a history of the global rice trade from the seventeenth century to World War II. 

“Peter has been a member of the BHC since he graduated, and in March of 2021, he will finish his third year of service as a Trustee of the BHC(second term, first term 2007-2010). He has served in other positions—"I’ve been on the program committee twice (1999 and 2016), and served on the local arrangements committee in 1999 when the annual meeting was held in Chapel Hill.” To learn more about what the positions within the organization entail, I asked Peter to explain some of the tasks he had to take upon as an officer of the organization. Peter replied that “The BHC takes leadership very seriously,” which is also what makes him proud about having dedicated so much to the BHC.Peter added, “I’ve been an officer in numerous professional organizations over the course of mycareer, and the BHC is one of the most conscientious, diligent, purposive, and well-run of those in which I have been involved. The President, the Secretary-Treasurer, the Editor of Enterprise & Society, and the people staffing other leadership positions actively solicit input on matters great and small and take such input with the utmost seriousness. In both of my terms as a Trustee, I have been a member of the Print Media Oversight Committee (PMOC), which has afforded me very interesting insights into the changing nature of the publishing industry, particularly into the complex issues affecting academic journals. For example, as a Trustee and a member of the PMOC, I’ve weighed in on contracts with publishers, and am currently trying to help the BHC to figure out how best to navigate in the emerging OA (OpenAccess) publishing environment.”

With all this experience, I asked Peter, “What's one thing you wished you knew when you were just starting out?” Peter said, “There is not one thing, but many things I wish that I knew when I was starting out. At a general level, though, I wish that I had consistently behaved with the economic concept of opportunity costs closer in mind. The older I get, the more I understand that decisions and choices have costs and potential consequences that need to be weighed carefully." That said, for the most part I’m ok with the decisions I’ve made and the way my career has gone.” For graduate students and emerging scholars working in the field of business history or in other related fields, he advises to think about “the question of opportunity costs [...] Doing one thing impedes at least to some extent your ability to do something else.” Peter recommends to “Be deliberate and intentional about the choices you make. Secondly, don’t shy away from taking scholarly and professional risks, even early in yourcareer.” Peter encourages new people to become members—for him, being part of the BHC has meant working with “smart and conscientious professionals committed both to the promotion of business history qua field and to the well-being of the BHC and its members.”Throughout the decades, the most significant change for Peter within the organization is that it “has become much more diverse in all kinds of ways. Wherever one looks—membership,disciplines represented, areas and topics treated, methodological and ideological attachments, etc.— the BHC has become a bigger tent.” 

For the BHC, Peter thinks, the “future is bright, despite strong headwinds affecting the profession.”The BHC’s primary asset is “the talent and intellectual firepower in the organization’s ranks” and the fact that “the members care so strongly about the BHC.” Peter is excited for studies of “business history of non-Western areas” and for “the possibilities opening up with the coming-of-age of ‘Big Data.’ Thisdevelopment will allow scholars to quickly access and manipulate massive amounts of information pertaining to business and economic history, and,thence, to use the results to answer old questions better and answer others previously unanswerable.Besides, working with ‘Big Data’ will likely impel or entice scholars to collaborate more in teams, which is exciting in its own right.” Integration of digital tools is vital for Peter. He also looks forward to“scholars engag[ing] with people in the fine arts and creative arts—novelists, poets, dramatists, filmmakers, artists, musicians, etc.--who are exploring or who have explored themes relevant to business and business history. Artistic insights and perspectives can broaden, deepen,and amplify our understanding of business, and allow us to perceive business history in different ways.”