CFP: BHC 2024 -- Doing Business in the Public Interest

Doing Business in the Public Interest

Annual Meeting of the Business History Conference 

Providence, Rhode Island

March 14-16, 2024

Proposals due November 1, 2023

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman famously stated that “There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” Yet the historical record is full of businesses acting consciously or unconsciously in a public interest.  

A public interest might include everything from labor practices, product safety, and environmental impact, to choosing sides on contentious social issues or weighing ties to questionable political regimes, to obligations in times of war or natural disasters. Some businesses consciously attempt to marry the embrace of a public interest with the profit motive, or feign a public interest to evade regulation. Others gamble that a short-term sacrifice in the name of public interest will result in long-term gain, while others sincerely believe that a business can do well by doing good. This calculus is further complicated by the fact that there is no single public interest either within or beyond the corporation. 

Informed by the idea of doing business in the public interest, the BHC Program Committee invites sessions and papers that consider the relationship between businesses and public interest from a variety of different perspectives. We are especially interested in submissions that address diverse geographic locales and time periods; that analyze the different ways that business interactions with a public interest are shaped by questions of race, class, and gender; that investigate how entrepreneurs, firms, and communities have attempted to define and/or shape the public interest for their own benefit; that address the role of governments, politics, and power in affirming or denying the relationship between businesses and a public interest; that examine corporate practices within the context of corporate social responsibility, stakeholder theory, or a purpose-driven business model; that explore businesses that claim to set aside the public interest completely; and any number of similar subjects. The organizers also welcome proposals with innovative formats that promote discussion on the broader question of doing business in the public interest.

Proposals and Submissions

While we encourage submissions to take up these themes, papers addressing all other topics will receive equal consideration by the program committee in accordance with BHC policy. Graduate students and emerging scholars in the field are particularly encouraged to attend. Graduate students and recent PhDs whose papers are accepted for the meeting may apply for funds to partially defray their travel costs; information will be sent out once the program has been set. 

Proposals may be submitted for individual papers or entire sessions. Each presentation proposal should include a one-page (300 words) abstract and one-page curriculum vitae (CV) for each participant. Individual paper submissions will be combined into new sessions defined by themes chosen at the Program Committee’s discretion. 

All session proposals should have a cover letter containing a title, a one-paragraph session description, and the names and affiliations of all presenters (to a maximum of four) and a recruited chair, as well as the contact information for the session organizer. 

To submit a proposal, go to 

The deadline for receipt of all paper and session proposals is November 1, 2023. Notification of acceptance will be given by December 15, 2023. Information on registration and fees for participation and the provisional program will be announced at the beginning of February 2024. Everyone appearing on the program must register for the meeting.