Attacked From Both Sides: the Memory of Woodrow Wilson in Post-Ferguson America

21 11 2015


Racial politics are convulsing university campuses across the United States. After Obama’s election in 2008, we heard much about the United States being a post-racial, rainbow society. In “post-Ferguson America”, this optimistic narrative has been undermined. The University of Missouri, which was certainly plagued by overt racist behaviour (think frat boys shouting the n-word), was the epicentre of the current wave of campus unrest. The turmoil, however, has reached impeccably liberal colleges such as Yale, where students have complained about such issues such as the lack of recognition of minority leaders in campus building names and public artwork, which is clearly a very different sort of issue. As a recent Bloggingheads dialogue between Glenn Loury and John McWhorter illustrates, reasonable people can disagree about whether the deletion of the names of racist historical figures from campuses is necessary for the creation of an inclusive learning environment.

At Yale,  students and faculty have energetically debate whether to rename Calhoun College, which is named after a Yale alumnus who was an ardent defender of slavery in antebellum America. At Princeton, the main issue appears to relate to the memory of Woodrow Wilson, the Princeton President who went on to become the President of the United States and who was notoriously racist, even by the standards of his era. For the controversy at Princeton, see here. A statue of Wilson was recently removed from the campus of UT Austin out of deference to the feelings of the university’s Black community. It was removed at the same time a statue of Robert E. Lee was dismantled.

As someone who researches social memory (i.e., how ideas about the past are used by social actors in the present), it is fascinating to witness the struggles over Woodrow Wilson’s memory, particularly as people at both ends of the US political spectrum are attacking the man, albeit for very different reasons. Progressive revile Wilson because he was a segregationist who screened Birth of A Nation in the White House and ensured that racial equality would not become part of the Covenant of the League of Nations. People on the right attack Wilson because he introduced federal income tax and an advocate of US membership in the League, which was, of course, a precursor of the detested United Nations. Back in June, Professor Randy Barnett, a conservative constitutional scholar, published an op-ed in the Washington Post attacking Wilson for his racism (see here). Although Barnett’s WaPo piece focuses on Wilson’s racist ideas (attacking Wilson for his racism is a bit like shooting fish in the barrel), in other contexts Barnett has also written critically about Wilson’s legacy and has essentially condemned the Progressives for putting the US on the road to socialism through the introduction of income tax and support for campaign finance reform.

I’m not saying that Barnett’s criticisms of Wilson are entirely valid or that Barnett’s own worldview is coherent. After all Barnett is an “originalist” who venerates the creators of the US Constitution some of whom were actual slaveholders and thus worse than Wilson. However, it is interesting to note that Wilson’s memory is now being assaulted from two different directions. People from both Black Left and the Tea Party Right are using the ritual of a rhetorical attack on Wilson as a way of outlining their own ideological positions for the benefit of spectators.


Award for Bernardo Batiz-Lazo

21 11 2015


My co-author Bernardo Batiz-Lazo has been awarded a prestigious prize by his alma mater in recognition of over 15 years of professional excellence.

Professor Batiz-Lazo, Professor of Business History and Bank Management at Bangor Business School, was awarded the ‘Premio al Merito Profesional’ (Professional Merit Award) by the alumni association of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM).

Bernardo regards the award as “an opportunity to highlight the importance of a research agenda that crosses over the humanities and the social sciences, as does my interest in the role of computers in the history of capitalism.”

Javier Chavez Ruiz, CEO of Mexico Mobile and former Dean of ITAM’s Business School said: “this is the biggest honour that our beloved ITAM awards its most successful alumni. It is in recognition of Bernardo’s brilliant and highly successful academic career, which transcends national frontiers”.

A Few Thoughts on the TEF (Teaching REF)

18 11 2015

As those of you who follow developments in UK Higher Education know, the British government is currently contemplating a hare-brained scheme a new system of monitoring and regulation designed to improve the quality of [undergraduate?] education in British universities.  The proposed system, which will be called the Teaching Excellence Framework if it is actually implemented, will involve a government agency, HEFCE, measuring and then ranking the performance of universities using a number of criteria. Funding will then follow to universities that do well on this system.



I understand that there are legitimate concerns about the quality of higher education in the UK relative to other advanced countries with similar levels of GDP per capita. These concerns have been highlighted by recent press coverage about academically superb British students who turn down offers from elite British universities such as Oxford and Cambridge to study in the United States. The Daily Telegraph, which is read by many people in Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, ran an alarmist story on the subject last year. This story reported that more than 10,000 bright British students now study at universities in the United States and that they are attracted by the such things as generous financial aid packages, favourable faculty-student ratios, and the other forms of support that increase student satisfaction. The story also quoted the headmaster of a prestigious boarding school who said “There’s an allure about studying in America and having a broader, liberal arts approach with greater focus on sport, music and artistic prowess. It is a more generous vision of what higher education can be rather than the utilitarian approach we see in the UK [universities].”

If the British government wants to make the student experience in the UK more like that of the United States the correct response to this trend would be for the government to try to increase the percentage of GDP that is devoted to higher education.  (I’m not saying that making British universities more like American ones would actually be a good thing,  as the US student experience encompasses everything from great teaching at liberal arts colleges to racist frat boys in Missouri to crushing student debt loads to Mattress Girl to wonderful libraries to campus shooting sprees). More money would help. As everyone knows, the UK falls short on the higher education GDP table and just four European countries spend less as a proportion of national income. The British government could increase the resources that universities have to devote to students either by increasing public spending on higher education as a percentage of GDP. Alternatively, it could encourage private donors to give more generously to British universities, which would have the net effect of increasing the overall percentage of GDP devoted to universities.  (To his credit, a leading Conservative businessman Lord Ashcroft has given generously to the business school at the University of East Anglia).  Large endowments might allow British universities to close to perceived gap in student experience with the United States.  The British government might incentivize wealthy people to donate to universities through the honours system or  by making it known that wealthy individuals who fail to donate to universities will be exclude from social events involving the Queen.

However, the British government has done nothing of the sort and will continue to fund its higher education sector with a very slender slice of GDP. Instead, the laughable proposal contained in the recent Green Paper is to try to improve the student experience through a species of central planning. A vast and costly bureaucracy will be created to try to measure student satisfaction, which is apparently the best way of measuring the quality of education. (I would have said that retrospective graduate satisfaction, measured say three years after graduation is a better measure). To ensure that academics perform a variety of tick-box exercises, universities will be expected to devote resources to creating costly monitoring and reporting systems.

The proposed regulatory structure looks like this:


As Martin McQuillian notes, this proposal for a new bureaucracy is ironically being justified on the grounds it will somehow create a more competitive market in higher education.

There is a remarkable contradiction in all of this. The government is proposing a substantial apparatus of scrutiny, surveillance, intervention and interpolation, which will occupy untold hours of academic staff time.  It involves delegating new powers to the minister and to BIS and creating a new regulatory landscape that will take years to bed in. In total it represents a very substantial incursion of the state into universities, even if the paper insists that the TEF will be administered at arms length from government. In the name of creating a dynamic market the green paper proposes to build a glorious state bureaucracy.

Ranking systems (remember Consumer Reports product rankings for TV picture quality) do serve a useful service in any market economy as they help consumers to determine value for money before making a costly purchase. Rankings of universities, such as those produced by US News and World Report or the Guardian and Times Higher league tables, can serve a useful function in guiding prospective students to the universities that offer the best student experience. What the British government should do it encourage the development of a competitive market for university rankings.  The best rankings of university teaching quality involve extensive field research, which is very costly, since it involves sending well qualified, and therefore well-paid, academics into countless universities classrooms to do observations. For instance, when researchers at Teachers College of Columbia University and at Yeshiva University, tried to develop a way to compare the educational quality of courses across institutions, they sent observers to sample no less than 587 courses at four different universities.  Even then, there were serious questions about the representativeness of the sampling method and the method of evaluation.  My point is that while the field research needed to produce credible rankings of university teaching quality is expensive, the government may wish to subsidize the production of the rankings in some fashion. However, it should not try to rank university teaching itself, as such an effort represents an attempt to create what is close to a monopoly in the teaching-quality ranking business. Such monopolies are rarely good for the consumers.

EBHA Council Election Results

17 11 2015

The members of the European Business History Association have elected three new council members. They are Veronica Binda (Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management, Bocconi University), Pierre-Yves Donzé (Graduate School of Economics, Osaka University), and Ben Wubs (Erasmus University, Rotterdam). Congratulations to them and thanks to all of the other people who stood for office.



Shout Out to all Historians of International Business

16 11 2015
The Journal of World Business is calling for proposals for Special Issues (see below). As someone who strongly believes that Business History can offer a great deal to scholars in International Business and International Management, I would be interested in forming a team to submit a proposal for a special issue on Business History to this journal. I’m thinking that a team of three guest editors would be ideal for this project. One of them should be an established IB or IM scholar who is interested in historical research methods.
If you are interested in helping me to craft a proposal for the Special Issue of this prestigious journal (ranked 4 in the ABS journal guide), please contact me.
Due date: January 15, 2016
Please send proposals to
Kim Cahill, Managing Editor (
The Journal of World Business (JWB) invites proposals for special issues with a due date of January 15, 2016.
JWB has a long tradition of publishing high impact special issues on emerging or provocative topics within the editorial purview of the journal. The objective of these special issues is to assemble a coherent set of papers that move understanding of a topic forward empirically and theoretically. Therefore, as a rule, JWB will not publish special issues based solely on papers presented at conferences or workshops. Rather, special issues must be motivated by a clear and compelling focus on an issue that is timely, significant and likely to generate interest among JWB‘s readership.
Prospective guest editor(s) should submit written proposals that incorporate the rationale for the special issue topic, positions it in the literature, and include some illustrative topics that papers could focus upon.The proposal should also include a draft of the actual call for papers and outline the credentials of the guest editor(s).
After the closing date, the JWB editorial team will review the proposals submitted and select one to three for further assessment. This additional analysis may include communication with prospective guest editors, suggestions as to how to strengthen the proposal and/or recommendations for the addition of other guest editors. Following this consultation, one proposal will generally be selected by the Editor in Chief to progress, although the guest editor(s) may still be asked to develop and refine the proposal further. The Editor-in-Chief will generally assign a JWB Senior Editor to serve on the SI editorial team as the Supervising Editor. The Supervising Editor will be responsible for acting as a liaison between the JWBeditorial team and the guest editor(s) and ensuring that JWB editorial standards are maintained through the special issue process. She/he will be actively involved in the entire editorial process, including helping to select which papers are sent for review, identifying and assigning reviewers and in preliminary decisions throughout the review process. However, the ultimate decision to accept or reject papers rests with the Editor in Chief.
The guest editor(s) will be responsible for publicizing the call for papers and for generating submissions for the special issue. If appropriate, they may host a workshop for papers being considered for the special issue but attendance at the workshop cannot be a prerequisite for the acceptance of papers. They will also be actively involved in all stages of the review process in terms of inviting reviewers and making preliminary decisions on submissions. The review process will be managed online through the EES system. It is also expected that the guest editors will write an introductory article that will position the special issue in the relevant literature and briefly introduce the papers in the issue. This paper will be subject to editorial review. In order to prevent any perception of conflicts of interest, it is JWB policy that Guest Editors cannot submit to the special issue as authors of papers beyond the introductory article. 

Congratulations to Dimitry Anastakis

10 11 2015


Congratulations to my friend and one-time co-author Dimitry Anastakis. The Trent University business historian has been named to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC).

Professor Anastakis was among 48 new incoming members named to the RSC this fall. As a member, he will work with other experts from across the country to provide guidance on issues of importance to Canadians, and promote Canadian achievements in the arts, humanities and sciences.

“I am honoured to have been elected to the College of New Scholars, and am doubly-honoured to be the first Trent scholar to have been afforded this recognition,” said Prof. Anastakis, who is recognized for his national and international reputation as a leading scholar of Canadian business and economic history, and his ongoing commitment to expanding the boundaries of Canadian history.

Prof. Anastakis’s book, Autonomous State: The Struggle for a Canadian Car Industry from OPEC to Free Trade, released in 2013 was awarded the international Hagley Prize for the best book in business history, and the Canadian Historical Association-Political History Group best book prize, along with being shortlisted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada as the best book in the Humanities.  He has published numerous articles and chapters, and his research has been discussed in numerous media outlets including the New York Times.  Prof. Anastakis also serves as the co-editor of theCanadian Historical Review, the flagship journal of his profession.

The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists was established in 2014 as Canada’s first national system of multidisciplinary recognition for the emerging generation of Canadian intellectual leadership. It comprises a fourth entity (along with the current three Academies) within the Royal Society, which itself was established in 1882.  The Members of the College are Canadians who, at an early stage in their career, have demonstrated a high level of achievement. The criteria for election is excellence, and membership is for seven years.

Call for Contributors

8 11 2015

AS: I’m forwarding this CFP.
Would you like to play a role in setting out an authoritative, academic history of retail banking in your country or a country well known to you?
Lafferty Group is embarking on a major project: chronicling the rise of mass market retail banking across the world from the early 1970s to today.

If you are interested in becoming a contributor, please get in touch. Alternatively, feel free to forward this web address to friends or colleagues – perhaps other practitioners or indeed academics.

We are concentrating on the last half–century in the initial instance, in order to create an online encyclopaedia. In time, an academic journal, The Journal of People, Money and Culture, is planned and a conference to develop the research further.

Please address your response to Fin Keegan, Managing Editor, email:


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