Using History to Make Dietary Decisions

20 10 2017

About a decade ago, I found that I couldn’t tolerate wheat gluten. That discovery forced a change in my diet. There are many people who can’t eat wheat for medical reasons. However, I was surprised to learn that there are people who avoid eating wheat and other grains for basically political reasons that draw on our current understanding of the history of civilization. Their thinking is that since the emergence of agricultural gave rise to the State and many oppresive institutions, one should avoid consuming the grains that were at the heart of the Neolithic Revolution. For these people, avoiding grains and eating a hunter-gatherer “paleo” diet of meats and greens is a noble political act. The basic idea is that wheat and rice are slave food and we should eat what the Mongols or the pre-Contact First Nations ate. Note how a temporal marker (“paleo”) taken from the name of a historical period has become the name of a way of eating.


I find this argument against eating wheat and rice to be absurd and a misuse of historical knowledge. It would be the equivalent of saying “Hitler’s regime developed rocketry, therefore we shouldn’t use rockets.” That’s the fallacy of historical origins– what is technically known in philosophy as the genetic fallacy. [The otherwise excellent article on fallacies in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy doesn’t discuss the genetic fallacy, but you can read about it here).

I also find that the historical argument against the gluten-free diet advanced by Alesio Fasano in a recent Freaknomics broadcast to be guilty of the same error. After presenting some perfectly reasonable arguments against non-coeliacs adopting a gluten-free diet, Dr Fasanon then took brought in a historical argument:

Not only gluten is not a villain, but without gluten you and I, we still jump from one tree and another. We [would] not have build the Coliseum or the Eiffel Tower because before the agriculture and, therefore, predictability — humankind spend 90, 95 percent of activity for food procurement and 5 percent for reproduction. No time to unleash ingenuity or doing anything about it.

Without agriculture — therefore, without gluten  we would definitely be at the same level of any other species and probably would not be the dominant species. I would personally never, ever recommend a gluten-free diet to somebody that does not have the medical necessity. Myself, I eat gluten. I do this with moderation as we should do for anything.

In any event, this review of James C. Scott’s new book on grains and the rise of the State is well worth reading by anyone who thinks about food, power, and/or history.



CFP: Association of Business Historians Annual Conference 2018

20 10 2017

Association of Business Historians Annual Conference

‘Pluralistic perspectives of business history: gender, class, ethnicity, religion’

The Open University Business School, 29-30 June 2018

Call for papers

The 2018 Association of Business Historians Annual Conference will be held on 29-30 June 2018 at the Open University Business School in Milton Keynes. The conference theme is ‘Pluralistic perspectives of business history: gender, class, ethnicity, religion’. The role of different social groups and identities in business is an important, though under researched, topic in business history. However, there is, increasing recognition that, for example, women were not simply ‘angels in the home’, keeping their distance, when compared with men, from the grime of the industrial revolution and the financial transactions which that involved. Social class had an impact in the City, and Quakers, for example, were important in the banking sector. There is now evidence of women occupying roles, not just as workers but also as lenders, business owners, managers, and investors in significant numbers. To what extent did culture or religions influenced occupation of these roles? There is evidence also that lower social classes did invest to some extent in newly launched companies, as did members of the clergy, as in ‘Widows, clergymen and the reckless’.

This conference aims to explore the impact of gender, social class, ethnicity, and religion on business success, fraud, funding, financial markets, corporate governance, and corporate social responsibility. Proposals for individual papers, or for full sessions, panel discussions or other session formats are invited on this topic, broadly conceived. Specific topics may include, but are not restricted to:

Ethnic, religious, class groups and women as entrepreneurs, lenders, investors, managers and/or workers.
Archival sources and methodologies to document and analyse different social groups’ participation in business.
Comparative studies of different social groups in business.
Social groups and business failure.
Social roles and relations in the workplace.
Cross-cultural issues in business and management.
Business and social movements.
Cultural, religious, gendered, class-related business networks.
Social groups and fraud, business failure, or market bubbles.
The influence of the law on different social groups or classes’ financial and business decision making.
Social groups or identities and corporate social governance.
Social groups, business and philanthropy.
Social groups or identities and the family firm.
The impact of social groups on business and corporate finance.
Social groups or identities, business, legislation and taxation.
Gendered, cultural, religious and class preferences for business characteristics.
Social groups as colonial and foreign investors.
As always, the ABH also welcomes proposals that are not directly related to the conference theme.

How to submit a paper or session proposal

The program committee will consider both individual papers and entire panels. Individual paper proposals should include a one-page (up to 300 word) abstract and one-page curriculum vitae (CV).

Panel proposals should include a cover letter stating the rationale for the panel and the name of its contact person; one-page (300 word) abstract and author’s CV for each paper; and a list of preferred panel chairs and commentators with contact information.

The deadline for submissions is 15 January 2018.

If you have any questions, please contact the local organisers: or

Your application for the conference should come through our online submission platform:

First you make a choice for uploading a single paper or a full-session. After pressing each button you will find a mask guiding you through the upload process. Please have available your CV and your Abstract.

Any other idea regarding the conference – workshops, poster sessions, or panel discussions – must be suggested directly to the Programme Committee.

Submit your Papers and Sessions:

NEH-Hagley PostDoc in Business Society & Culture

18 10 2017

Organizational History Network

The NEH-Hagley Postdoctoral Fellowship on Business, Culture, and Society supports residencies in Hagley’s Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society by scholars who have received their doctoral degrees by the application deadline. In accordance with NEH requirements, these postdoctoral fellowships are restricted to United States citizens or to foreign nationals who have been living in the United States for at least three years. These fellowships are made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Hagley is the pre-eminent research library in the United States on business and its impact on the world. It holds more than seven miles of manuscript materials, more than 300,000 published sources, and visual items in excess of 3 million. Publications drawn from our collections provide foundational knowledge for the rise and influence of big business on politics and society as well as the cultural history of modern consumer society. Documentation…

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Repost: Academic Entrepreneurship in Historical Perspective — Organizational History Network

6 10 2017

Over the last couple of years, an interdisciplinary group of historians of science and technology and business historians have been collaborating on a project on “academic entrepreneurship” that has resulted in the publication of two special issues. Links to the introductions to those special issues and a list of the articles can be found below. […]

via Academic Entrepreneurship in Historical Perspective — Organizational History Network

Escape FDI and the Varieties of Capitalism: Why History Matters in International Business

29 09 2017

I was very pleased to see the appearance online of a paper in the Management International Review by the late Christopher Kobrak, Michael-Jörg Oesterle and Björn Röber.


This paper addresses the need for a stronger perspective of history in International Business research. In order to illustrate this matter, we will discuss the topic of ‘escape FDI’ as a motive for foreign direct investments (FDIs). While prior research suggests a connection between ‘escape FDI’ and an economy’s degree of societal coordination in a quasi-ahistorical manner, we will argue that ‘escape FDI’ is an issue that liberal and coordinated market economies alike have witnessed. In fact, the relevance of simple dichotomies, such as coordinated and liberal economies, seems to break down in the face of shifting institutional conditions that are bound to very specific periods. Quite consciously, the present paper combines social science and historical methodologies, in an effort to produce a synthesis that will benefit both approaches to understanding international business and its larger context.

2018 Business History Conference Annual Meeting

25 09 2017

Baltimore, Maryland, April 5 – April 7, 2018

Proposals due October 2, 2017

Money, Finance, and Capital is the theme of the 2018 Business History Conference meeting. Historians who want to write compelling histories of capitalism must grapple with the manifold roles that money, finance, and capital have played in political, economic, social and cultural dynamics. Yet, for many years, the abstruse and elusive character of these phenomena encouraged many historians of economic life to maintain a safe distance from them. Of course, there have always been some historians willing to figure out where money, finance, and capital fit into broader histories of our societies. Still, much of what we know about currency and credit, investment and profit, bonds and futures results from highly specialised research whose technical quality reinforces the enigmatic character of these subjects.

Historians are not alone in encountering difficulties in making sense of money, finance, and capital. In 1931, for example, when distinguished British economist, John Maynard Keynes, gave a radio address on the “slump”, he emphasised that “the behaviour of the financial system and the banking system is capable of suddenly going off the rails, so to speak, and interfering with everyone’s prosperity for obscure and complicated reasons.” Keynes pointed out that it was unreasonable to expect the ”man in the street” to understand such reasons. Yet, he also emphasised that professed experts tended ”to talk much greater rubbish than an ordinary man” largely because ”the science of economics, of banking, of finance is in a backward state.” More recently, Alan Greenspan infamously admitted his “shocked disbelief” at the onset of the recent crisis and former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, portrayed money and finance as “alchemy”. Technical expertise in these domains, it seems, is not necessarily a route to greater understanding.

Fortunately, money, finance, and capital have moved to the forefront in many historiographies in recent years. Whether it is the business of slave plantations and trade, of consumer credit and railroading, of government finance, securities markets and international banking, the history of business offers exciting insights on these important and perplexing themes. That was already apparent in some of the pioneering research that historians carried out on money, finance, and capital and it has become clearer still with the recent new wave of research by political, cultural, social, literary and economic historians.

The theme of the 2018 BHC conference is designed to encourage contributions from a variety of approaches to historical research on the themes of money, finance, and capital, covering a broad range of periods and geographies. The program committee of David Sicilia (chair), Christy Ford Chapin, Per Hansen, Naomi Lamoreaux, Rory Miller, Julia Ott, and Mary O’Sullivan (BHC president) invites papers addressing, inter alia, the following questions:

  • – How have money, finance, and capital bound different people and places together over time in relationships of mutual advantage, dependence or exploitation?
  • – How much change do we observe in concepts such as currency, credit, and capital and their associated practices between more distant and recent pasts?
  • – What is the role of money, finance, and capital in the emergence and persistence of varieties of capitalism around the world?
  • – What historical variations do we observe among businesses in their conception and measurement of capital, its control, investment and utilisation, as well as in the risks and rewards associated with it?
  • – Without neglecting the post-World War II trend towards “financialization”, what might we say about the changing relationship between finance and capital over the very long run?
  • – What has been the role of money, finance, and capital in the origins and diffusion of international crises in history?
  • – What types of commentators have generated powerful ideas about money, finance, and capital? How have economic commentators, historians, business leaders, journalists and other writers helped to construct and contest these ideas?
  • – Do the historical roles of money, finance, and capital allow us to demarcate capitalism as a distinctive type of social organisation or does it suggest, as Deirdre McCloskey claims, that the term “capitalism” is a scientific mistake?

While we encourage proposals to take up this theme, papers addressing all other topics will receive equal consideration by the program committee in accordance with BHC policy. The program committee will consider both individual papers and entire panels. Individual paper proposals should include a one-page (300 word) abstract and one-page curriculum vitae (CV). Panel proposals should include a cover letter stating the rationale for the panel and the name of its contact person; one-page (300 word) abstract and author’s CV for each paper; and a list of preferred panel chairs and commentators with contact information. To submit a proposal go to and click on the link Submit a Paper/Panel Proposal.

All sessions take place at the Embassy Suites Baltimore Inner Harbor. Rooms (all suites) are $159/night and include a full breakfast.

The K. Austin Kerr Prize will be awarded for the best first paper delivered by a new scholar at the annual meeting.  A “new scholar” is defined as a doctoral candidate or a Ph. D. whose degree is less than three years old. You must nominate your paper for this prize on the proposal submission page where indicated. Please check the appropriate box if your proposal qualifies for inclusion in the Kerr Prize competition.

The deadline for receipt of all proposals is 2 October 2017. Acceptance letters will be sent by 31 December 2017. Everyone appearing on the program must register for the meeting. Graduate students and recent PhDs (within 3 years of receipt of degree) whose papers are accepted for the meeting may apply for funds to partially defray their travel costs; information will be sent out once the program has been set.

The BHC awards the Herman E. Krooss Prize for the best dissertation in business history by a recent Ph.D. in history, economics, business administration, the history of science and technology, sociology, law, communications, and related fields. To be eligible, dissertations must be completed in the three calendar years immediately prior to the 2018 annual meeting, and may only be submitted once for the Krooss prize. After the Krooss committee has reviewed the proposals, it will ask semi-finalists to submit copies of their dissertations. Finalists will present summaries of their dissertations at a plenary session of the 2018 BHC annual meeting and will receive a partial subsidy of their travel costs to the meeting. Proposals accepted for the Krooss Prize are not eligible for the Kerr Prize. If you wish to apply for this prize please send a cover letter indicating you are applying for the Krooss prize along with a one-page CV and one-page (300 word) dissertation abstract via email to The deadline for proposals for the Krooss prize is 2 October 2017.

The BHC Doctoral Colloquium in Business History will be held in conjunction with the BHC annual meeting. This prestigious workshop, funded by Cambridge University Press, will take place in Baltimore Wednesday April 4 and Thursday April 5. Typically limited to ten students, the colloquium is open to early stage doctoral candidates pursuing dissertation research within the broad field of business history, from any relevant discipline. Topics (see link for past examples) may range from the early modern era to

the present, and explore societies across the globe.  Participants work intensively with a distinguished group of BHC-affiliated scholars (including at least two BHC officers), discussing dissertation proposals, relevant literatures and research strategies, and career trajectories.  Applications are due by 15 November 2017 via email to should include: a statement of interest; CV; preliminary or final dissertation prospectus (10-15 pages); and a letter of support from your dissertation supervisor (or prospective supervisor). Questions about the colloquium should be sent to its director, Edward Balleisen, All participants receive a stipend that partially defrays travel costs to the annual meeting.  Applicants will receive notification of the selection committee’s decisions by 20 December 2017.

General questions regarding the BHC’s 2018 annual meeting may be sent to Secretary-Treasurer Roger Horowitz, Book Review: Economic History of Warfare and State Formation

19 09 2017

Published by EH.Net (September 2017)

Jari Eloranta, Eric Golson, Andrei Markevich and Nikolaus Wolf, editors, Economic History of Warfare and State Formation. Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer, 2016. xxii + 283 pp., $129 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-981-10-1064-2.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Mark Koyama, Department of Economics, George Mason University.
Reviewing an edited volume is always a challenge. The title and blurb of Economic History of Warfare and State Formation suggests a comprehensive account of the economic history of war and states in the tradition of Otto Heinz or Charles Tilly. This volume does not provide this. Rather it is a selection of essays written in honor of the work of Mark Harrison, the distinguished economic historian of the Soviet Union.

The essays included in this volume are all by leading scholars in economic history. It opens with a highly stimulating piece by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson on “Paths to Inclusive Political Institutions.” This chapter focuses on the need for state development to be balanced by the rise of a strong civil society if a society is to follow the path towards inclusive political institutions pioneered by classical Athens and early modern England. This piece is ambitious and always interesting, even when one disagrees with it. It goes beyond the arguments they have developed in previous work such as Why Nations Fail (2012) and offers a novel way to think about the formation of liberal states.

The second essay in the volume, “States and Development: Early Modern India, China, and the Great Divergence” by Bishnupriya Gupta, Debin Ma, and Tirthankar Roy, also tackles an important subject matter. It attempts to integrate the perspectives scholars have gained from focusing on the concept of state capacity into the Great Divergence Debate. This is an important and unstudied topic. And the chapter makes the important point that state capacity was undeveloped in both China and India on the eve of the Great Divergence. But at less than sixteen pages, this essay is far too short and concise to do justice to the topic or to fully engage in the relevant literatures or fully assess the historical evidence.

The second part of the volume contains three papers on the Russia (one of which also considers Finland). This is fitting for a tribute to Harrison who has worked extensively on the Soviet Union, but it represents a narrowing of focus compared to the papers contained in Part 1 and these essays are more likely to appeal to specialists in the field rather than to the general reader. That said, the data contained in both the chapters by Steven Nafziger and Andrei Markevich are fascinating and will no doubt feature in subsequent published articles.

Part three focuses on the economics of warfare. Harrison’s essay is a fantastic deconstruction of many widely retold myths about World War 1. In his revisionist reading: the war was the result of rational calculation due to the “rational pessimism” of particularly Austrian, German, and Russian policymakers; the Allies had an overwhelming economic superiority and attrition was a rational strategy for them to pursue; the blockade of Germany was less decisive than is usually supposed; the harshness of Versailles and consequences of hyperinflation oversold and German democracy was on course for consolidation in the 1920s before the Great Depression hit.

The remaining essays tackle a common theme. Drawing on their previous research, Stephen Broadberry and Peter Howlett summarize the lessons from British mobilization in World War II. Price Fishback and Taylor Jaworski study how American involvement in that war affected the spatial distribution of economic activity. They show that war spending had a persistent impact on population movements as people relocated to countries where war spending was higher. Jonas Scherner and Jochen Streb reassess the widely held view that there was a German armament miracle in 1942 when Albert Speer became armaments minster. Eric Golson introduces a simple framework to understand the incentives facing neutral countries in World War II.

I enjoyed and learned from many of the pieces in this volume. But I also suffered the disutility associated with false advertising. The blurb presents Economic History of Warfare and State Formation as a comprehensive handbook on state formation for both academics and lay readers. It is not this. And I found it bizarre that nowhere is the book advertised as what is it which is: a Festschrift volume.

Once this is recognized then it is understandable that the book suffers from many of the inevitable issues that bedevil all such Festschrifts. Some of these come with the territory and cannot be avoided. Here, however, I felt that some of the disunity could have been easily remedied by including proper introductory and concluding chapters. There is a short preface, but a volume like this requires a strong introduction that knits together the themes of the separate essays. Since many of the different papers do not engage or speak to one another, in the absence of a proper introduction or conclusion, one questions the value of having them published in a single volume rather than as separate articles or working papers. This shouldn’t be read as a criticism of the scholarship of the authors of this volume, but it is a criticism of edited volumes produced by commercial publishers.

In sum, Economic History of Warfare and State Formation contains some fascinating essays and scholarship. As a volume, however, it is less than the sum of its often very stimulating parts.
Among Mark Koyama’s recent papers are “Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China” (with Melanie Meng Xue) and “Negative Shocks and Mass Persecutions: Evidence from the Black Death” (with Remi Jebwab and Noel D. Johnson).