Deadline Extended: EBHA 2018

10 01 2018

The deadline to apply to the European Business History Association conference has been extended to Wednesday, January 31, 2018.
If you have any questions please contact Veronica Binda or Roberto Giulianelli at:

The firm and the sea: chains, flows and connections

Call for Papers, European Business History Association 2018 Conference Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona – Italy September 6-8, 2018

The sea – whether considered as open ocean or as a mass of water bordered by land masses – is an enormous economic resource for mankind. Not only is it the principal way of transportation for goods and humans but it’s also a formidable source of food. Since we want to link the sea with the business unit (the firm, as well as other organizational units like clusters, networks and global value chains) the focus of the next EBHA conference will be on two units of analysis that are both extremely relevant for the sea as well as economic resources – ships and harbors.

In order to perform its function, the ship (a means for transporting goods and people) is run in a very hierarchical way, more than what occurs with a factory or a retail company (two good comparison points). Just as with a factory or retailer, ships embody economic goals to be achieved by workers, managers, and – this is the difference – CEOs whose decisions cannot be challenged given that the cargo and (more importantly) the life of its “inhabitants” can be at stake.

Rarely does the ship stand on its own as a business unit (unless we talk of an activity like fishing which is certainly important). It’s part of a group that refers to a shipowner acting in a very complicated world where the ups and downs of charters and continuous struggles with government regulations and policies render decisions delicate and complex.

The ship is the nexus of a tremendous amount of activity – just consider the shipyards, metallurgic factories, plants producing precision equipment, and those dedicated to heavy machinery. And think of other sectors like the extraction of raw materials and agricultural products that could have a real global circulation in relation to the capacity of the maritime vehicle.

Then there are associated service sectors such as insurance and banking activities focused on navigation (often with government support). Credit for navigation is a landmark of the modern economy with both successes as well as bankruptcies. Also worthy of further study is the role that passenger ships have played in the social and economic development of many nations. From the large ships of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that plied the Atlantic Ocean transporting passengers between the Americas and Europe to the postwar ocean liners that offered a glamorous way to travel to new destinations, ships helped make the tourism industry grow.

And we can’t close our eyes to some of the unlawful activities connected with the world of navigation including the illegal transportation of human beings, prohibited goods, and money laundering. Even today there are occasional episodes of piracy, something that we thought limited to history books and old novels.

The second actor we consider is strictly related to the first one – ports, an unavoidable reference point for ships that make them their destination for the goods and passengers on board. It’s in the port that a ship can stock materials needed when at sea and eventually undergo repairs before embarking on a new journey. We see the port as an


entrepreneur (formed by stakeholders with both common and divergent goals) which should be analyzed in an historical perspective. First are the many aspects of the governance of the port: who’s in charge? Is it a function of the State or the military? Is it a managerially run port authority that, even if designated by State powers, has relative autonomy in its actions? Are there private operators who handle the terminals? How does the type of governance impact a port’s efficiency? Second, we have to single out the crowd of operators in a port: maritime agents, stevedores, people who maneuver the cranes, pilots, dock workers. Several of these activities are strictly regulated, at times resulting in strong conflicts between various actors in the port.

The relationship between a port and the areas around it, the presence of appropriate infrastructures, and the many activities making up the field of logistics – all are tremendously important for the port as a kind of entrepreneur. Given their role of stimulating the trade of goods, raw materials and energy sources, the port becomes a key actor of the development of productive areas. Ports can strengthen or even launch the industrial take-off of the territories they supply. Moreover, ports are historically linked to global cities, nodes in a complex network of trade, but also of political international alliances, which emerged progressively in the phases of globalization (from Singapore to Hong Kong and from San Francisco to Yokohama, for example).

Even today seas and their ports remain a theater in which important geo-political and geo-economic stances take place; their relevance for business history can’t be underestimated. From the building or restructuring of infrastructures that are pillars of the first wave of globalization (the Suez and Panama Canals, for example) to new opportunities brought about by the latest waves of globalization, the sea continues to be an essential, physical component of the complex web of trade relations which allow the existence of global value chains that take advantage of its unique means of connection and communication.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

Connections, links and networks in waves of globalization and de-globalization
Characteristics and dynamics of the shipping and logistics industries
The long run transformation of shipbuilding and related industries
The fishing industry
The history of insurance and banking activities related to navigation
Technological developments and their impact on ships and ports
The variety and features of illegal activities connected to sea transport
Features and management of companies connected with the world of navigation
Private and public entrepreneurship in sectors related to sea transportation
Workers and industrial relations in maritime industries
The governance of ports and their transformation over time
Relations of cooperation/competition among maritime companies and ports
The history and development of global value chains and networks
Last, but not least, ports, ships, and even the sea are highly sensitive to technological change and the resulting emergence of competitive and alternative infrastructures (from railways and motorways to airlines and large airport hubs).


The role played by firms and entrepreneurs in shaping the development of maritime exchanges of goods, services, and information, or in integrating economies and cultures
Seas, ports and climate change
Dynamics and impact of governmental policies and regulations on navigation
The political economy of connections and links
The impact of ports on their surrounding territory and vice versa
The geography and features of global cities and their transformation
The role of the sea in shaping the emergence and consolidation of different kinds of

Migrations flows across the sea
Passenger travel and the growth of tourism
International investments in the maritime industries
The relationships among port cities seen as nodes of a global network where
dimensions and scope change over time

The organizers expect to receive proposals related to some of the suggestions outlined above. But consideration will also be given to papers covering other aspects of the broader conference title.

In the event of a business history topic without ties to the sea or the firm, consideration will be given, provided that the proposal demonstrates originality and that this forum could be a useful place for further reflection.

We also invite other formats, such as panels and roundtables, poster sessions for Ph.D. students, workshops aiming to start collaborative projects, and “toolkit sessions”. Proposals should be directed to the paper committee as well.

Requirements for proposals

The submission system consists of a template that specifically asks for

(1) Author information: affiliation, short CV, authored publications related to the paper proposal

(2) An abstract of no more than 800 words

(3) Additional information important to the program committee: clear statement of the research question (not more than 150 words), brief information on the theoretical/conceptual framework used, major research areas to which the paper relates

(4) Joint papers need a responsible applicant who will be at the conference if the proposal is accepted.

Please have this information ready to enter into the submission system via copy and paste.

Requirements for panel proposals and roundtables

The criteria for single paper proposals also apply to session and roundtables proposals. There is, however, a specific template for session proposals.


Sessions can be ninety minutes long (usually three papers) or two hours in order to accommodate more papers. A successful panel/roundtable leaves significant time for the audience to raise questions, to comment and to generally discuss the panel’s theme.

A session proposal should not be made up of participants exclusively from one country. The program committee retains the right to integrate papers into sessions as they see fit.

Please note that paper, session/panel proposals must be submitted via the congress website (use this link to upload proposals). See the Conference Website ( for further details.

The deadline is Monday, January 15, 2018.

If you have any questions please contact Veronica Binda or Roberto Giulianelli at:


Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Business History: Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management

4 01 2018

Solvay Brussels School of Economics & Management
Free University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Business History (2 + 1 years)

Salary: Fellowship up to ca. 30,000-36,000 EUR, depending on level of expertise and
fiscal regulations.  Employer will provide assistance with the administrative steps to be undertaken prior to arrival at the ULB and the various formalities to be completed once in Belgium (residence permit, accommodation, health insurance, tax and social security…

Expected start date: October 1st, 2018

Application deadline: February 8th, 2018

A Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Business History is vacant at the Solvay
Brussels School of Economics and Management (SBS-EM) of the Free University of
Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles – ULB).

The Kurgan-van Hentenryk (hereafter KvH) Chair in Business History aims at
advancing and diffusing research on the history of the knowledge economy. The
purpose of the chair is threefold. First, it is designed to perform research in the field of
business history. The Chair’s research focus lies on the comparative analysis of the
origins, development, and consequences of the science and technology-based industry
which has emerged as a global phenomenon from the 1970s onwards. Second, in terms
of research diffusion, the KvH Chair intends to give students from the Solvay Brussels
School in Economy and Management (SBS-EM), as well as students from other
faculties at ULB, the learning tools and the latest insights in business history research
on the topics mentioned above. Third, as a commitment to the communication of
research, the Chair ambitions to initiate a wide range of scientific activities
(conferences, workshops, etc.) as a means to foster the public development of business
history and enhance the interest of scholars, experts, and business actors for this field.

The postdoctoral researcher will hold the title of Kurgan-van Hentenryk

Postdoctoral Fellow in Business History. The fellowship is awarded for two years’
residence and research at SBS-EM, with a possible extension of a third year. The
fellowship is open to scholars who, within the last three years, have received a Ph.D.
in history, economics, or a discipline related to the field of business history. Please
note that the applicant should not have been affiliated to a Belgian university
more than 12 months within the last three years (1 October 2015 – 30 September

The first purpose of the fellowship is to enable scholars to engage in the activities that
correspond to the mission statement of the KvH Chair in Business History. In terms of
research output, the fellow is encouraged to submit at least two articles in leading
international scholarly journals during his or her term as KvH Postdoctoral Fellow. A
second purpose is to provide an opportunity for the fellow to participate in the
activities of the SBS-EM. The fellow is required to lead a business history research
2 seminar under the direction of the academic coordinator of the KvH Chair. Finally, the
fellow is expected to actively and widely disseminate the latest research findings in
business history and to organize an annual Workshop in Business History.


For more information, please contact
In addition to being associated with the project, the fellow will be a member of the
International Centre for Innovation, Technology, and Education Studies (iCite) of the
SBS-EM and have access to the resources and activities of iCite, as well as the wider
hosting Faculty. The successful candidate will normally be expected to have his or her
residence and work place in Brussels, and to be an active member of the research
community at the Free University of Brussels (ULB).
 A PhD in history or economics, with a substantial background in business
history (dissertation must be successfully defended by the start of contract).
 Good English language skills.
Administrative Project Manager: Ikram Sefiani (
Telephone: +32.2.650.48.66; Fax: +32.2.650.65.96
Av. F.D. Roosevelt, 50 – CP 145/01
1050 Brussels, Belgium
Academic Coordinator: Prof. Kenneth Bertrams (
Telephone: +32.2.650.39.56
Av. F.D. Roosevelt, 50 – CP 133/01
1050 Brussels, Belgium

The Value of Teaching Business History to Management Students: a Donor Perspective

20 12 2017

My fellow business historians in management schools have published about why business history ought to be part of the management school curriculum (see the recent paper by Perchard et al.). Today, I’m sharing a different perspective on the same subject, namely, a donor point of view. In this video, Lynton ‘Red’ Wilson, a Canadian philanthropist, reflects on the nature of business history and how historical knowledge allowed him to improve his decision-making during his business career, which included stints leading Redpath Industries Ltd, a sugar refiner, and BCE Inc., the country’s largest telco. To illustrate the value of history to managers, he shared an anecdote about a joint venture in Thailand in which historical knowledge was useful to him. He also spoke about why he joined with five other philanthropists to endow the L.R. Wilson/R.J. Currie Chair in Canadian Business History at Rotman.

The other donors who helped to create the chair were Anthony Fell, chairman of RBC Capital Markets; James Fleck, founder of Fleck Manufacturing Inc., the philanthropist Henry N.R. (Hal) Jackman; and John H. McArthur, dean emeritus of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business Administration.

As readers of this blog will know, the chair was held by Chris Kobrak from 2012 until his sudden death. The future of the chair continues to be considered.

Did inequality cause the First World War? Contra Hobson-Lenin-Milanovic

16 12 2017

Following up my blog post on the subject, I’m sharing this excellent rebuttal of the Hobson-Lenin thesis.


The “Hobson-Lenin Thesis”: inequality, ‘underconsumption’, capital exports, imperialism, and the Great War

In a small section in his new book, Branko Milanovic argues that the First World War was ultimately caused by income & wealth inequality within the belligerent countries, resurrecting ideas from John A. Hobson, Rosa Luxemburg, and Lenin. The basic argument: high domestic inequality => ‘underconsumption’ by the masses & ‘surplus’ savings by the elites => capital exports, i.e., search for overseas outlets for investment => the ‘scramble for colonies’ & imperialism => (a major cause of the) WAR.

I examine each element in this chain of logic and reject the “endogenous World War I” view.

[ Update 6 Dec. 2017: Thomas Hauner, Branko Milanovic, and Suresh Naidu have a new paper out, “Inequality, Foreign Investment, and Imperialism“, which argues in greater detail Milanovic’s argument from the book. See my brief comments at the end. Update 7 Dec. 2017:…

View original post 5,670 more words

Online Survey of Business Archivists

15 12 2017
Are you an archivist who works within a company? If so, read on!
Last week, my co-author Dr Wim van Lent of Montpellier Business School presented our paper at the International Council of Archives-Section on Business Archives workshop in Mumbai (see here). Our research is on the performance effects of using a corporate archive. In other words, we are trying to learn more about the various ways corporate archives contribute to the bottom lines of the firms that own them.  We see a lot of potential for expanding on this research, and with your help we will be able to take the first steps in that direction!

If you can take a few minutes of your time, please follow the link below and complete Wim’s online survey:

This survey is for business archivist anywhere in the world! We are interested in hearing from archivists who work in a wide variety of companies– big companies, little companies, SOEs, family firms, etc.



The Leninist Theory of the First World War

12 12 2017

Did increasing inequality in the capitalist powers cause the First World War? That was the argument the Lenin famously advanced in Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Subsequent academic research has not been kind to the Leninist theory that greedy bankers pushed their respective governments to war in the summer of 1914. Painstaking archival research by fellow business historians helped to show that pretty much the exact opposite was closer to the truth– the bankers, far from wanting war, sought to restrain bellicose governments — for a survey of this literature, see Jonathan Kirshner, Appeasing bankers: Financial caution on the road to war. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Since I tend to believe in Capitalist Peace Theory and have applied in my business-historical research on Anglo-American relations in the 1860s, I am generally inclined to accept the view that Kirschner’s theory is much more accurate than the Leninist one.  However, I have approached the newly-released working paper by Thomas Hauner, Branko Milanovic, and Suresh Naidu on the origins of the First World War with an open mind. Their paper, Inequality, Foreign Investment, and Imperialism, revives a modified form of the Lenininst theory of the origins of the war. The paper expands upon a short comment that Branko Milanovic made in his justly famous book on trends in global inequality, where he had suggested that rising inequality c. 1900 had caused the First World War.  In that book, Milanovic wrote:


I argue that the outbreak of World War I and thus the reduction of inequality subsequent to that war are to be “endogenized” in the economic conditions predating the war, by which I mean that domestic inequalities played an important role in the run-up to the war. In making this argument I go back to an older, and in my opinion, most persuasive, interpretation of the outbreak of World War I. According to this interpretation the war was caused by imperialist competition, embedded in the domestic economic conditions of the time: very high income and wealth inequality, high savings of the upper classes, insufficient domestic aggregate demand, and the need of capitalists to find profitable uses for surplus savings outside their own country.

Here is the Abstract of the new paper:

We present an empirical restatement of the classical economic theory of imperialism and
the origins of World War I. Using recent data, we show 1) inequality was at historical highs in all the advanced belligerent countries at the turn of the century, 2) rich wealth holders invested more of their assets abroad, 3) risk-adjusted foreign returns were higher than riskadjusted domestic returns, 4) establishing direct political control decreased the riskiness of foreign assets, 5) increased inequality was associated with higher share of foreign assets in GDP, and 6) increased share of foreign assets was correlated with higher levels of military mobilization. Together, these facts suggest that the classic theory of imperialism may have some empirical support.

My reaction to the paper is that it contains a great deal of evidence of correlation without much proof of causation. I think that a mixed methods paper that included qualitative material taken from the archives of Europe’s largest banks and its foreign ministries might have produced a more convincing case for the author’s thesis.

On more theoretical grounds, I’m not at all convinced that so-called “surplus savings” and capital exports are associated with colonialism, militarism, and imperialism? In the 1980s and 1990s, Japan, which was then a famously pacific country with strict constitutional limits of military expenditure, exported lots of capital to the USA. These capital exports were due, ultimately, by the thrifty nature of many Japanese housewives. Was Japan militarist then? Or did it just focus on exports cars and VCRs? The United States of the Trump era, is a net capital importer and the adults in the room in the Oval Office know that much of this money is coming from China. In the nineteenth century, Spain, Portugal, Turkey,  and, famously, Russia, were all capital importers. (I will concede that Russia’s close ties to the Paris Bourse, and thus the savings of many French families, did indeed influence diplomacy in the years leading up to assasination of the Archduke).

I’m certainly not denying that too much economic inequality, particular economic inequality of the source type documented in  the new book by Lindsey and Teles on The Captured Economy can indeed be a very bad thing. Rising inequality can be linked to many objectively bad phenomena. However, I don’t think it is fair to associate market-created economic inequality with the chain of events that led to the First World War. Indeed, while many of the named individuals whose decisions collectively led to the First World War were indeed very wealthy and certainly within the top 1% of their societies, few of them enjoyed wealth that stemmed from the operation of the market economy. They were hereditary aristocrats, not LeBron James or Bill Gates.


Francis Savage Reilly (1825-1883)

7 12 2017

Today was the second day of the Supreme Court of Canada hearings into the Comeau case. I’ve been following some of the hearings on Twitter thanks to the live tweeting by Paul Braunovan, a partner at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall., who is in the Court Room. He is also President @brownvanbrewing, an Ottawa’s craft beer company.

A few minutes ago, Paul noted that one of the lawyers  (Brown) disputed my interpretation of the historical origins of s. 121 of the Canadian constitution. I gather that there was a request from someone in the courtroom for more information about the actual individual who drafted the British North America bill before it went through the UK parliament. Well it was Francis Savage Reilly (1825-1883).

You can read more about his individual, his role in drafting s. 121, and his probable reasons for phrasing it in the way he did in right here.