My Panel at BHC 2018: Adventures in Financial Archives

26 01 2018

AS. I’m sharing the details of my panel at the 2018 Business History Conference. The presentation draws on my current papers on open data, research transparency, and their implications for business history and for historically-minded financial institutions. I’m looking forward to re-connecting with corporate archivists I know and meeting new professionals in the field.
Presenter and Moderator: Andrew D. Smith, University of Liverpool
Open Data and Business History: Promises and Pitfalls


Niels Viggo Haueter, Head of Corporate History, Swiss Re
Elisa Liberatori Prati, World Bank Group Chief Archivist
Kerri Ann Burke, Citibank Archives
Anne DiFabio and Brigette Kamsler, HSBC Archives


P.S. My native Canada will be well-represented at the BHC this year. In addition to a PDW sponsored by the Canadian Business History Association, there will be the following  papers on the programmer that are Canadian by either subject or author.  There of the papers are from Queen’s University, my undergraduate alma mater, an institution one would not traditionally have associated with business history.

Jeffrey D. Brison, Queen’s University
The Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Political Economy of Canadian Culture

Rosanne Currarino, Queen’s University
New Thinking about Markets in the Gilded Age

Taylor Alexandra Currie, Queen’s University
“I sure don’t like this Socialism stuff”: Du Pont’s HOBSO Program and the American Way at Mid-Century






Roubini on Blockchain and History

26 01 2018

The economist Nouriel Roubini is quite skilled at using historical knowledge to make sense of the present. For many years, historical analogical reasoning has appeared quite frequently in his columns. (Roubini has co-authored with a PhD historian, Stephen Mihm, which shows that he takes history seriously). Roubini’s most recent column, which is about blockchain technology, also uses historical analogy to understand what’s going on in fintech. I’m just not totally convinced he is using the tool of historical analogy well in this particular case.

Roubini writes:

Boosters of blockchain technology compare its early days to the early days of the Internet. But whereas the Internet quickly gave rise to email, the World Wide Web, and millions of commercial ventures, blockchain’s only application – cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – does not even fulfill its stated purpose.

I’m left wondering whether Roubini is employing  historical analogy correctly here– it took some time for the Internet to be repurposed for uses that were not originally envisioned by its creators. I’m thinking of online car dealerships, Tinder, the Internet of Things, etc. Maybe we need to give blockchain more time. Moreover, I’m not convinced that Roubini’s claim that the only use of blockchain is cryptocurrencies– isn’t the UK NHS experimenting with using blockchain to track blood donations?

Roubini tells us

Since the invention of money thousands of years ago, there has never been a monetary system with hundreds of different currencies operating alongside one another. The entire point of money is that it allows parties to transact without having to barter. 

Really? I think that there were a number of Bitcoin-style “forks” in the history of other forms of money. That’s why many currencies have a sub-unit called “the penny” that is descended from the old silver penny of medieval times. These modern units can be exchanged with each other, albeit with some difficulty, just as we can exchange the  three forked Bitcoin standards we now have.

Roubini also writes that

Until now, Bitcoin’s only real use has been to facilitate illegal activities such as drug transactions, tax evasion, avoidance of capital controls, or money laundering

We might deplore these activities as much as we decry the misuse of the Internet, and the invention of fire, by bad people but that doesn’t prove that Bitcoin isn’t going to be socially transformative.

Don’t get me wrong– I tend to agree with Roubini’s view that Bitcoin is a bubble. His use of history is much better than that of the Bitcoiner promoters who use trash historical analogies on SeekingAlpha, where investors are told that “No asset in history has appreciated so rapidly. Therefore, Bitcoin is different, thus we can expect it to behave differently, and this does not necessarily mean that it’s a bubble.” Roubini is doubtless right when he says that As a currency, Bitcoin should be a serviceable unit of account, means of payments, and a stable store of value. It is none of those things. I’m just not convinced that all of the historical arguments he adduces here are accurate.


CFP: JHMO 2018 (Recherche en Histoire du management et des organisations)

26 01 2018

JHMO 2018
Le temps des organisations
Paris, Cité universitaire internationale
22-23 mai 2018

La date limite d’envoi de vos propositions pour l’édition 2018 des JHMO est repoussée au 15 février prochain. 

Ce colloque doit permettre de s’interroger sur les différentes temporalités des organisations, de les croiser et de préciser le poids du passé, de trouver des “marqueurs” dans la façon dont elles abordent le présent et se projettent dans l’avenir.  Trois axes majeurs susciteront une approche critique : les usages du passé, les sources du passé et les limites de l’histoire des organisations. Toutes les communications qui adoptent un regard critique sur la temporalité des organisations en la reliant au passé sont bienvenues (comptabilité, management, stratégie, management public, marketing, communication financière etc.)

Pré-programme : La conférence d’ouverture sera prononcée par l’historien suisse Laurent Tissot : spécialiste de l’industrie horlogère, il nous fera partager son regard sur le temps et son histoire. Exceptionnellement, le repas de gala du mardi soir sera remplacé par une soirée cinéma avec la projection du documentaire Lip, l’imaginaire au pouvoir suivie d’un débat avec son réalisateur de Christian Rouault.  Enfin, le mercredi matin deux ateliers méthodologiques parallèles seront consacrés respectivement au traitement de l’archive comptable (autour deYannick Lemarchand) et aux archives orales (autour de Florence Descamps).

Main Conference Events : The first key note address will be delivered by Laurent Tissot, Professor of contemporary history in Switzerland, whose main research interests are concerned with the history of industrialization and in particular the watch industry. He will discuss the topic of time and its history. On an exceptional basis, there will be no gala dinner on Tuesday night, as it will be replaced by a movie night based on a documentary directed by Christian Rouault and entitled: “les Lip, l’imagination au pouvoir”. All participants to the “semaine du management” can attend the evening which will be screening the documentary and organize a debate with the film director. On Wednesday morning, two parallel sessions on methodology will be organised. The first one will be concerned with the use and the interpretation of accounting archives(guest speaker: Yannick Lemarchand); as the second one will discuss the use and the interpretation of oral archives (guest speaker: Florence Descamps).

Retrouvez l’intégralité de l’appel à communication ainsi que des indications bibliographiques : cliquez ici

Calendrier :

  • Date limite d’envoi des propositions de communications  : 15 février 2018
  • Mars 2018 : Avis du comité scientifique aux auteurs
  • Avril 2018 : Envoi des textes définitifs
  • 22-23 mai 2018 : JHMO 2018

Contact :

PhD Summer School 2017 – University of Tübingen

25 01 2018

Nicolaas Strydom

In September of last year I had the wonderful privilege of attending a PhD Summer School entitled ‘Business Beyond Businesses: Agency, Political Economy & Investors, c. 1850- 1970’. This took place at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in the charming town of Tübingen, Germany. The aim of the summer school was to provide doctoral students with an overview of relevant research and of innovative tools and methodologies in the fields of Business and Economic History. Each doctoral student also had a 25 minute slot in which to present their own research, and receive extensive feedback from the academic panel as well as the fellow doctoral students present.

IMG_5889 The beautiful town of Tübingen, Germany

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Christophe Bondy’s Advice to UK Policymakers

23 01 2018

The Canada Option is oftened mentioned in discussions about what the UK’s future relationship with the EU might look like. (It is often contrasted with the Norway Option). On 17 January,  the House of Commons Committee on Exiting the European
Union heard testimony from three expert witnesses who were deemed to be experts on the Canada-EU trade agreement (CETA).  They are Christophe Bondy, Public International Lawyer at Cooley (UK) LLP and former senior counsel to the Canadian on the CETA negotiations; Dr Lorand Bartels, University of Cambridge and Senior Counsel, Linklaters; and William Swords,  a retired banker who is President of the UK-Canada Chamber of Commerce. (Personally, I’m  not at all certain why Swords was invited, since he doesn’t appear to know much about the lengthy process that resulted in the CETA agreement). Christophe Bondy, in contrast, knows a great deal, as he was in the room during the negotiations.  You can read the full transcript of his excellent testimony here. I am excepting the most powerful section of his testimony below.

Stephen Crabb MP: What is the single most important piece of advice that
you can give to the UK Government about its starting posture?

Christophe Bondy: The single most important piece of advice is to study
what the benefits are that the UK draws from the European Union. Study
how it functions. You have been participating in this for the last 45
years. I do not think this is a surprise. It was a British person, it was
Baron Cockfield, who in 1985 set out in a White Paper 300 different
measures that would have to be achieved to achieve the single market,
which were implemented. As of 2006 with the Services Directive, there
has been progressive liberalisation in trade and services across the
European Union.

You have created, as I understand, something like 58 different impact
assessments. I do not know what they contained entirely, but some of
them contain, for each of those sectors, the laws and regulations that are
the European rules of the road that sectors across the UK depend upon to
do business. You are not moving from a situation like Canada in the EU,
where there was a big wall up that we have knocked down. You can now
step over the wall so there are opportunities. That is good. You have
been living in a system that has had that bridge in place. You have been
functioning with it in place for a long time and people depend upon it.
Figure out what it is that you depend upon and how much you are willing
to give up….

In March 2019, in technical terms, the UK will experience probably the
single biggest loss of free trading rates in human history, because you
will suddenly not have the benefit of all of the treaties that the EU has
entered into, in addition to losing access to the EU.


You can read more about Christophe’s impressive CV here.

CFP for STS and Business History Workshop: BHC 2018

21 01 2018
Deadline extended to 1 February 2018.
 The “STS and Business History” workshop aims to foster a conversation between Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Business History.  STS-inspired methods offer novel approaches for business historians to navigate the complexities of modern capitalism. In particular, STS scholars have provided useful ways of approaching the study of finance, logistics, human resource management, corporate planning, infrastructure, and big data. Paired with the detailed attention that business historians pay to the intersections between business practices and wider social, cultural, and political contexts, the integration of STS approaches into business history offers a fruitful mode of investigating modern capitalism.
The workshop builds on the conference Techniques of the Corporation, organized by Michelle Murphy, Kira Lussier, Bretton Fosbrook, and Justin Douglas at the University of Toronto in May 2017, to query the techniques, epistemologies, and imaginaries of the corporation.
We welcome emerging and experienced scholars from a variety of disciplines to submit an abstract (250 words) that focuses on the history of a particular technique or technology deployed by corporations. We invite papers from a range of approaches where STS and business history might be effectively placed in conversation. Abstracts will be examined starting February 1. Accepted participants in the workshop will pre-circulate a short (1500-2000 word) paper, with the ultimate aim of the workshop the preparation of a collection of  papers for a special journal issue. Please see the full call , with a link to the Google form for submission, at:

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: