Engaging Corporate Heritage

22 03 2012

Public history blogger Krista McCracken has published a great post on corporate archives and institutional memory. In her post, she offers reasons why companies ought to care about preserving old records.

She writes: On the most basic level institutional memory can help prevent the repetition of past mistakes.  Often the biggest gaps in institutional memory occur during a change in administration or management.  For example, a newly hired administrator implements new methods without being aware of what has worked or failed in the past, and he makes the same mistake that was made six months ago.  Institutional memory isn’t designed to stall innovation (though it can be misused that way).  Rather, it can help organizations avoid reinventing the wheel. Having records which highlight past work allow for informed decisions to be made in the present.

She also says that company archives

can help cultivate institutional culture and pride.  Remembering past triumphs and projects can help employees see the long term impact of their work and the institution at large.  Celebrating anniversaries and other important dates in the organization’s history can further instill pride and a sense of longevity.

I think that the second point is a really important one.  Long-established companies like invoking images of their histories in advertising aimed at the public and in communication for internal consumption. It builds confidence among consumers and pride among workers. That’s why older bank branches often have the year of incorporation displayed prominently– it helped to reinforce the idea that the bank (and the depositors’ money) would be around for the long term. Although most bank branches built after the introduction of government-run deposit insurance systems don’t display the dates of founding so prominently, banks still pride themselves on their heritage.

There are vast numbers of TV commercials that refer to the history of the company in question. For a recent example, see below:

As Deidre Simmons’s history of the archives department of the Hudson’s Bay Company, corporate archives can certainly help with all of these activities.

 

 

 

 

 





FT Article on Slavery and the City of London

30 06 2009

The front page of this weekend’s edition of the Financial Times carried a story about historical research that has uncovered new evidence regarding the details City of London’s involvement in slavery. [Note: story includes video of interview with noted historian Catherine Hall] The most interesting fact revealed in the article is that Nathan Mayer Rothschild accepted slaves as collateral for a loan. The House of Rothschild had previously been famous for arranging the loan that allowed the British government to borrow the money needed to compensate slaveholders when slavery was abolished in the British Empire in the 1830s.

I’m glad that the FT ran this story, because it gives readers a sense of the historical importance of corporate archives (although in this case the key documents were uncovered at the National Archives in Kew). However, I’m not certain why information about the Rothschilds’ indirect involvement in slavery is terribly newsworthy.  After all, the House of Rothschild were the bankers of the Empire of Brazil at a time when that country had slavery. Like many other firms in Britain, America, and elsewhere, many City firms were indirect beneficiaries of slavery. We knew this already.








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