Why We Need a Transparency Revolution in Business History

18 11 2016

AS: Next week, I will be presenting our paper on research transparency in business history at at the Corporate Archives in Global Perspective conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. I’m particularly excited about talking about corporate archives and research transparency in Scandinavia since that region is noted for excellence in business-historical research, a great system for enabling academic access to corporate archives, and very robust cultures of transparency and freedom of information. (Sweden is generally regarded as a world leader in transparency). Representatives of the leading Nordic corporate archives will be at the workshop and I will be very interested to hear their responses to our proposal for the creation of an international data repository that would serve all qualitative and mixed-method business historians.

Andrew Smith, University of Liverpool Management School; Maki Umemura, Cardiff Business School.

You can see the PowerPoint for our presentation here.


The last decade have seen is an increasing emphasis on research transparency in both the physical and the social sciences. The various initiatives to increase research transparency have included data-sharing protocols, changes in journal submission procedures, and funding for replication studies in psychology, in cancer research, in economics, and other fields. The emerging norm in many disciplines is that raw data be published along with the paper, is designed to counteract the impression that researchers sometimes use data selectively or in an otherwise manipulative fashion. In short, we are in the middle of a “Transparency Revolution in Qualitative Social Science” to use the words of Andrew Moravcsik. Unfortunately, the interdiscipline of business history is being bypassed by this pan-disciplinary movement for the creation of research transparency institutions. The failure of business history as a scholarly community to participate in the “transparency revolution” risks placing our sub-discipline in a serious competitive disadvantage relative to other research areas. The failure to create transparency-promoting institutions would likely disadvantage business history as it contends with rival research traditions for scarce resources such as research council funding, venues for the presentation of research, and the creation of academic posts.  This paper is designed to initiate a conversation about what these institutions should look like. The paper argues that the business history community should attempt to move towards a regime of Active Citation whereby references to primary sources in paper contain a direct link to a scanned image of the source being quoted or otherwise cited.




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