3.3. Business History and Business/Policy


Business History and Business/Policy


John Wilson, Northumbria University Newcastle

I am Professor of Business History at Northumbria. My work focuses on the evolution of British business.

Anna Tilba, Durham University

I am Associate Professor in Strategy and Corporate Governance, focusing on influencing policy-makers in these areas.

The chair of this session is Vicki Howard, University of Exeter

Description of workshop 

This Symposium will be principally concerned with two core issues; reinforcing our view of business history as an empirically-based discipline, and advocating the most effective methodology to pursue; and assessing how best to enhance the status of business history as a discipline, especially in terms of teaching and practical impact. The title ‘Whither business history’ has been deliberately chosen as a play on words, because one possible scenario is that the discipline will only be known for its journals and conferences unless effective remedial action is taken, just as economic history suffered after 1980. Indeed, the parallels with the latter are daunting, in that having been overtaken by a drive to incorporate econometrics into historical analysis, economic history rapidly diminished in importance as a university subject. There are fears that the same will happen to business history if, for example, the historical organization studies (HOS) school of thought comes to dominate or academics in business schools are obliged to publish only in theory-oriented MOS journals. It is consequently essential to consider a strategy for the discipline based on the need to enhance its status, and especially to extend the successes achieved with regard to the research ‘pillar’ into teaching and practical impact. 

This will be followed by a debate about both the nature of the discipline and how business historians can resolve the challenges associated with its current status. Although we recognize that achieving a consensus might be extremely challenging, it is important to assess the possibilities and offer solutions. The Symposium will consequently focus on ways in which these challenges could be overcome, offering a solution based on much greater collaboration with practitioners. Above all, it is vital to think creatively if business history is going to break out of the current straitjackets that limit its impact outside a narrow range of journals. While it might be fair to say that the discipline is not in danger of ‘withering’, it is accurate to depict its current status in negative terms.

For more information or if you wish to participate in this workshop, please check this document.