Some Thoughts about Constructing Trustworthy Historical Narratives: Criteria, Principles and Techniques by Gill et al. (2018)

9 02 2019


Gill, Michael J., David James Gill, and Thomas J. Roulet. “Constructing Trustworthy Historical Narratives: Criteria, Principles and Techniques.” British Journal of Management29, no. 1 (2018): 191-205.

I recently read an important new paper on historical organizational studies that appeared in the British Journal of Management. The overall argument advanced in it is partially congruent with that offered in the 2016 Academy of Management Review paper by Maclean et al. However, I see some important differences between these two papers and I’m more sympathetic to the approach taken Maclean et al than what Gill et al. (2018). The paper by Maclean et al identified the five hallmarks of high quality historical organizational studies: dual integrity, pluralistic understanding, representative truth, context sensitivity, and theoretical fluency. “Dual integrity” means that a paper on historical organization studies would be respected by both a good historian and a good organization studies scholar. The historian would look at it and would say “Yeah, the historical research that went into that paper was solid.”

Unfortunately, dual integrity is not an issue that is stressed in the paper by Gill et al. I regard that as a serious flaw. Another problem with the paper by Gill et al is that the authors appear to conflate “trustworthiness” and “trusted” which are actually two separate things, since the word “trusted” relates to the subjective opinion of the observer. For instance, the charming man at the front door of a house might be trusted by the people inside, but he might not be actually trustworthy if he is a really a con artist.

The paper by Gill et al. does not really grapple with the following important questions:

“Why is it important for historical narratives trusted?” “In whose eyes must historical narratives appear trustworthy?”

“Whose opinions about trustworthiness are most important here?”

“If I take steps to make my historical narrative appear trustworthy in the eyes of people in group X, will it become less trustworthy in the eyes of people in this other group?”

Each of these important questions has different possible answers.

While the authors do talk a bit about Open Data and Active Citation as mechanisms for bolstering the perceived credibility of historical research findings, the don’t cite my co-authored paper on this subject that appeared at roughly the same time as their paper. Gill et al. base their discussion of Active Citation on a pathbreaking, if now somewhat dated  2010 paper by the political scientist Andrew Moravcsik. Readers wanting a more up-to-date discussion of how the principles of Open Data and Active Citation are being applied in management research should read my paper “Prospects for a transparency revolution in the field of business history” instead.

P.S. The journal Business History is now encouraging authors to upload their data to repositories, which is another victory for the Open Data/Research Transparency movement supported in my 2018 paper.

Papers on Canadian Topics at the 2019 Business History Conference

6 02 2019

The program of the 2019 Business History Conference has been published online. I observed a fair number of papers on Canadian topics.

Matthew Bellamy, Carleton University “Into the Blue: Licensing Agreements and the Globalization of Canada’s Labatt Brewery”

José Galindo, Universidad Veracruzana “Crony Capitalism and International Investment: The Case of Canadian Companies in Mexico”

Stefano Tijerina, University of Maine “Globalizing the Americas: Canada’s Business Expansion in Colombia During the First Half of the Twentieth Century”

Victoria Barnes, Max Planck Institute for European Legal History
Lucy Newton, Henley Business School, University of Reading
“Shifts of Wealth, Capital and Responsibility: Litigating in London about Shareholder Rights in Canada and the Commonwealth”

Michael Stamm, Michigan State University “Canadian Trees, American Policy, and Latin American Journalism: A Hemispheric History of Newsprint in the Mid-Twentieth Century”


My employer, the University of Liverpool, will be represented by Rory Miller, who will be presenting on “Foreign Firms and Economic Nationalism in Mid-Twentieth-Century Latin America”

Perceiving the Present by Means of the Past: Theorizing the Strategic Importance of Corporate Archives

29 01 2019

AS: I’m pleased to announce the publication of a new book chapter.

Wim van Lent  and Andrew D. Smith , (2019), Perceiving the Present by Means of the Past: Theorizing the Strategic Importance of Corporate Archives, in Torben Juul Andersen , Simon Torp , Stefan Linder (ed.) Strategic Responsiveness and Adaptive Organizations: New Research Frontiers in International Strategic Management (Emerald Studies in Global Strategic Responsiveness, Volume ) , pp.97 – 110


It is commonly acknowledged that history matters in strategy. However, the strategy literature mainly discusses history in terms of path dependency, leaving little room for managerial agency, despite growing anecdotal evidence that managers can actively draw on corporate history to improve decision-making. An emerging literature on how managers use the past to give sense to internal and external stakeholders has given rise to a more agent-based approach to history, but while sense-giving is commonly connected to sense-making as a driver of strategic change, the role of history in sense-making remains unexplored. Drawing on the concept of analogical reasoning, this chapter theorizes the connection between corporate archives and managerial sense-making, arguing that analogies drawn from past experience can reduce uncertainty and foster learning. This theory leads to the suggestion that consulting the corporate archive can promote strategic renewal and thus boost performance.

History, path dependency, uses of the past, corporate archives, sense-making, analogical reasoning

Why Do Politicians Care About the Opinions of Future Historians?

16 01 2019

Prior to her historic defeat last night, Theresa May has urged her MPs to support her Brexit or risk being condemned by the historians of the future. According to the headline in the Metro, “Theresa May has claimed that future historians will accuse MPs of failing the British people” by not implementing Brexit.

When I first read May’s words about future historians, I laughed. I thought her attempts to evoke fear of incurring the wrath of future (unnamed) historians were amusing when one considers that actual historians, like other academics, overwhelmingly supported Remain. Since the future historians May worries about will likely be the protegees of today’s historians, an anti-Brexit stance will probably inform how most future books cover Brexit unless it turns out that Brexit was a smart move after all. Most historians tend to have centre-left worldview, but since the British left is itself split over the issue of Brexit, there may be some future historians, especially those from the Marxist hard left, who write books that depict the Brexiteers in a positive light. (There are also some centre-right historians, typically in the US, but they are appalled by Brexit because they view it as victory for Russian interests).

After my initial reaction to May’s words had passed, it occurred to me that it is indeed useful for politicians to worry about what future historians will say about them just as I think it is useful for people who handle cash to imagine they are being monitored by the boss. There is some research that shows that when people believe they are being observed (either by other humans or some omniscient deity), they behave more ethically. However, I then realised that some of history’s worst criminals were also intently worried about what future historians would think about them. Hitler, for instance, expressed concerns about this very issue. Of course, Hitler was projecting his own warped value system onto the imagined historians who were to sit in judgement of him.  (Similarly, belief in an all-knowing, all-powerful god does not preclude people from committing genocide if they believe that such actions are what the god expects them to do). So maybe it isn’t a good thing for politicians to worry about the verdict of future historians.

I then got thinking about the empirical question of why a politician would care about what future historians would think of their actions. It is easy to understand why a politician would care about the voters think about their actions, since the politician wants to get re-elected. However, I don’t quite know why a mortal politician would care about the opinion that some future historian will render.  I’m therefore wondering if there is any published research on the issue of why political leaders appear to worry about how future historians will judge them. Is there any relevant psychological research that speaks to this question? Also, does anybody know when politicians first began using phrases like “history will judge us” or “future historians will condemn us if…”

If any of my readers have answers to these questions, I would appreciate a response in the comments section below.


Update: I just had the following email from a follower of this blog

That’s an intriguing question, Andrew. I put ‘future historians’ into Google ngrams, and it showed some interesting results, with a peak in the early 1940s (I wonder why… ?). The problem is then going through all the ngram references to find the use of the phrase by politicians, e.g. see the FDR reference, third down in the 1935-1947 group, explaining what Woodrow Wilson said to him in 1917…  
And of course British colonial officials abandoning African countries were very concerned about ‘future historians’ and destroyed many papers.





CFP: Histories of Business Knowledge

4 01 2019

Organizational History Network

PDW – Histories of Business Knowledge

Thursday, March 14, 2019, 1 to 4pm
Hilton Cartagena de Indias, Avenida Almirante Brion, El Laguito,
Cartagena de Indias, 130001, Colombia

Organizers: Christina Lubinski ( & Bill Foster (; Organized under the auspice of the BHC workshop committee; supported by the Copenhagen Business School “Rethinking History at Business Schools”-Initiative

Deadline for submissions: Friday, February 8, 2019

Knowledge is a central asset in business. Companies and organizations accumulate a pool of knowledge, whether it is knowledge about their customers’ needs and wants, their business environment, or the skills and experience of their employees. They also engage with a variety of different kinds of knowledge, such as explicit, formalized, or tacit knowledge and knowledge embedded in skills and bodies. The different ways in which businesspeople gather, share and capitalize on knowledge is a crucial competitive advantage (or disadvantage) in all market endeavors…

View original post 485 more words

Some Thoughts on Canada, Trump, and Meng Wanzhou

20 12 2018


I’ve finally had the chance to sit down and collect my thoughts about the place of Canada in the ongoing trade war between China and the United States. I haven’t had much time to blog in the last few weeks, as I’ve been busy with article revisions. Moreover, Brexit-related news has occupied a large proportion of my media diet since I live in the UK. However, as someone who has a Canadian passport and still identifies with Canada, I feel obliged to share my ideas as a business historian and management academic about the ways in which Canada has been caught between China and the U.S., or to personalize the dispute, between Xi and Trump.

Unlike the so-called trade wars of the 1980s and 1990s, which were simple commercial disputes between nations that were military allies (e.g., West Germans complaining about alleged Japanese steel dumping), the ongoing dispute between China and the US is reminiscent of the Anglo-German trade dispute of the early twentieth century. That trade dispute was connected to geopolitical and naval rivalry between two great powers that later boiled over into an actual war.  In a sense, the current trade war is far more serious than the trade disputes of living memory, such as the 1970s complaints about Japanese industrial policy or the 1960s “chicken war” between the US and the EEC.

I’ve had a chance to review the coverage in the financial press of the case of  (I found particularly good analysis here, here, here, here, and here).

It seems to me that Canada’s leaders face some very difficult decisions right now. It also appears that certain features of the Canadian academic system mean that Canadian academe has a limited capacity to provide advice to Canadian policymakers. Let me explain what I mean by both of these statements.

Doug Bandow, a Washington-based China policy analyst sums up the case of Meng Wanzhou quite nicely here.

Amid controversy over a maybe yes/maybe no ceasefire in Donald Trump’s trade war with China, the United States engineered the arrest by Canada of a top Chinese executive for allegedly busting U.S. sanctions on Iran. The detention sparked outrage in Beijing, which threatened Canada with “grave consequences” if Meng Wanzhou is not released.

In essence, the US government wants to destroy Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. The American government’s motives for doing so likely include a mixture of genuine fear that some of the firm’s products constitute a security threat and special pleading/lobbying by the non-US firms that are losing market share to Huawei. The basic story goes like this: a top Huawei executive made the mistake of assuming that she could safely travel through Canada since it’s an independent country with a flag and its own currency and other markers of sovereignty. She was arrested in Vancouver airport by the Canadian police at the behest of the US authorities, who have requested her extradition to the US.  The Canadian Prime Minister has loudly and implausibly denied that her arrest had any sort of political motivation. He has asserted that Canada’s legal system is “independent” of that of the United States.  This assertion is risible in light of President Trump’s own (ill-advised) statement that the arrest of the executive gives him more leverage over the Chinese in his ongoing trade talks with the US. The Guardian and the South China Morning Post have recently reported  that the arrest may “dash” Canada’s hopes of a bilateral trade deal with China. The reality is that achieving such a trade deal became a remote possibility the moment the Canada signed the revised NAFTA agreement (USMCA), which effectively gives the US the right to veto future Canadian trade agreements with countries the US deems to be “non-market economies”, which effectively means China.

As Paul Krugman has observed, the US has legitimate concerns about China over trade issue. Any US president, including Hillary Clinton, would likely be pressuring Beijing right now to address the concerns of US investors in China about forced technology transfer. Any US president would be speaking up on behalf of domestic producers who allege dumping by state-supported Chinese competitors. There are many issues that should have been addressed before 2001, when China joined the WTO but which the Clinton and Bush administrations opted to ignore in the interests of getting China engaged into the Bretton Woods institutions. Trump’s concerns about China are thus not entirely with foundation.  However, under Trump trade policy has become closely connected to a geopolitical strategy that rest on the idea that China is the main antagonist, even the enemy of the United States.  Steve Bannon, who was formerly Trump’s chief strategist and a leading Sinophobe, continues to praise Trump’s grand strategy for encircling China and waging economic warfare with it. One can well understand why so many US and now Chinese academics are worried that the US and China are falling into the so-called Thucydides Trap.

In my view, the fact that Canada’s government has opted to side with the US in its dispute with China is hardly unsurprising. Many Canadians, especially English-speaking Canadians and those on the right of the political spectrum, identify closely with the US. Such Canadians do not regard the US as just another foreign country, or even a foreign country at all. Those who have an ideologically- or emotionally-driven preference for aligning Canada closely with the US have various data points that can use, such as the fact that most of Canada’s exports still go to the US. Moreover, the text of the USMCA agreement essentially commits Canada to giving the US a veto over future commercial agreements with China.


At the time the text of the USMCA agreement was signed,  Michael Chong, who is an uncharacteristically intelligent and well-read member of the Canadian parliament, attacked the veto provision on the grounds that it made Canada a “vassal state” to the United States. In October, Chong, who is, we should note, of partly Chinese ancestry, was scathing in his denunciation of the now notorious Article 32.10  of USMCA. His words were:

Mr. Speaker, 100 years ago, 60,000 Canadians died in the Great War. Their sacrifice and bloodshed is full of the remembrance of that war. Parliament is full of reminders of that sacrifice. Their bloodshed paid for an independent Canadian foreign policy. It paid for our signature on the Treaty of Versailles. It paid for the Statute of Westminster, but the current government was so desperate for a deal that we now have to ask Washington for permission to negotiate free trade with certain countries. Article 32 makes us a vassal state. Is this restoring Canadian leadership in the world? Is this standing up for Canada?


Chong’s remarks, which show that he thinks historically about Canada’s place in the world, effectively suggest that Canada, which was formerly a British colony, has allowed itself drift into being a colony of the US. As every Canadian schoolchild knows, Canada’s colonial status resulted in it being sucked into the “vortex of European militarism” and the carnage of the First World War. Chong is intimating that Canada may inadvertently be signing itself up to Trump’s zero-sum worldview.

In accepting the USMCA agreement, Canada’s current government was making a judgement call that many, particularly those who work in the complex value chains that criss-cross the Canadian border, will probably regard as correct. After all, cancellation of NAFTA, as Trump had threatened, would likely have devastated these value chains. Clearly some difficult trade-offs between sovereignty and prosperity were made by the Canadian politicians who ultimately designed to consent to Article 32.10.

I’m uncertain on whether this judgement call was correct. What I do know is that the Canadian academic system is ill equipped to provide advice to policymakers who face this type of dilemma. This dilemma (trade-off between sovereignty and prosperity) is one that every small and medium sized country, particularly one that is caught between two great powers, faces. Just ask any historian in Luxembourg of Switzerland.


One of the tasks of a country’s universities is to supply advice to policymakers. The provision of such advice is one of the arguments for public funding of universities. Now the US universities have a considerable capacity to  provide advice to US policymakers dealing with the grand challenges associated with the rise of China. Graham Allison of Harvard is an outstanding example of such a public intellectual. I could provide other examples, such as Phil Tetlock of Wharton Business School, whose research on forecasting can help US policymakers to make better judgement calls. Whether or not the current inhabitant of the White House is listening to such advice, the fact remains that US universities are attempt to provide such advice to the leaders of the US.

The situation in Canada is quite different. Diplomatic history (e.g., studies of the rise and fall of great powers) is noticeably weak in Canadian universities, even though such research would appear to be helpful for thinking about Canada’s current policy dilemmas. Moreover, Canada’s political science and IR departments are filled with scholars who are from the US and whose frame of reference is totally American. These are academics who may live in Canada and draw a salary in Canadian dollars, but when they refer to “the country”, they are talking about the US. Such academics are neither socialized nor incentivized to think about Canada’s distinct national interests, let alone to invest time in speaking to Canadian policymakers.

I also think that the quality of the advice that the Canadian university system can supply to policymakers is reduced by the fact that economic history and business history are underdeveloped subjects in Canadian universities, especially in contrast to the UK. I think that these disciplines have something useful to say to policymakers attempting to chart an independent path between these two great powers. First, business historians have published extensively on how great power rivalries have created both threats and opportunities for firms in smaller economies, such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, etc. My friend Pierre-Yves Donzé at the University of Osaka has published such research, as have other top business historians (see here, here, and here). In theory, there is nothing to stop a Canadian business historian from drawing on the research of these European business historians  in trying to figure out what sort of geopolitical stance relative to China and the US Canada could take that would maximize opportunities for Canadian firms. In practice, however, policymakers are more likely to listen to academics in the same country. Since Canadian universities employ few business historians, there is nobody in Canada who can draw on the research of these historians and explain in an “elevator pitch” why it is relevant to Canada’s current policy dilemma.

Economic history is also relatively under-developed in Canadian universities. The Canadian Network in Economic History includes some great scholars, such as David Jacks at SFU, but compared to the UK, Canada’s capacity for economic historical research is weak. I know of some great Canadian citizen economic historians who work outside of the country (Vincent Geloso is one of them) and the fact they don’t work in Canada speaks volumes about how much Canadian universities care about economic history. UK economic historians such a Nick Crafts and Tim Leunig can and do speak to policymakers, but that doesn’t happen in Canada so much.


As a business historian who follows the economic-historical literature closely, I think that economic historical research is highly relevant to thinking about Canada’s current policy dilemma. As I see it, the central policy dilemma facing Canada is this: does Canada want to closely align itself with the US or does it want to distance itself with the US so it can remain on good terms with China?


What does the current state of the art research in economic history say about what Canada should do here? One of the things that research of scholars such as Joel Mokyr and other economic historians has made clear is that unimpeded knowledge flows are so central to improvements in Total Factor Productivity and rising living standards. The sharing of useful knowledge is the key theme in Mokyr’s account of the British industrial revolution. Britain was blessed with a bit of coal, the more important thing was that it had mechanisms for sharing good ideas about how to be more productive. Britain and the Netherlands were the country’s the basically invented economic growth and the next group of countries to steal this precious invention were the ones that were best able to take good ideas that had been invented in the UK and the Netherlands (e.g., steam engines and stock exchanges) and to copy them. These nations were either physically close to the countries at the productivity frontier or linked them by language (e.g., the US).  Due to language barriers and impediments created by governments, it took longer for these good ideas to reach places like Japan, but once the good ideas reached those shores those nations as began to start experiencing economic growth. The key lesson here is that if a nation is going to grow, it needs to be open to good ideas wherever they come from. “Not Invented Here” is a terrible attitude for a nation to have.  The nations that borrow good ideas from other nations without distinction to geography, race, creed, or other extraneous variables are likely to do better than those that only pool knowledge with their kith and kin.

Until generation or so ago, the inhabitants of only handful of nations had the opportunity to make a substantive contribution to the growth of useful knowledge. Most human were mired in poverty or locked behind Berlin Walls, so the rest of the human race couldn’t capture the benefits of their ideas. In the last generation, about two billion people have been lifted out of a poverty and hundreds of millions have escaped from agrarian misery, which means they now have the chance to contribute to humanities stock of knowledge. The internet facilitates the rapid diffusion of good ideas, which is why I am so dismayed to see evidence that the internet is being balkanized into at least two internets, a Chinese-dominated internet and a version of the internet that is dominated by US norms and firms. Splitting the internet up in this fashion is likely to slow down the diffusion of ideas. The efforts of the Trump administration to drive Huawei, an innovative firm whose products are at least as good as those of its American competitors, from the American sphere of influence is another sign that things are moving in the wrong direction. Chinese entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers have so much to offer to the world right now. According to US venture capitalists who work in China, Chinese start-ups are hotbeds of creativity similar to that witnessed in the golden age of Silicon Valley. That’s why companies like Sequoia Capital are there.  We in the West need access to Chinese ideas if we want to increase our growth rates. If the US wants to shut itself off from Chinese tech companies, and thus Chinese ideas, there isn’t much Canada can do about it. However, Canada should resist all pressure from the US to adopt policies that limit the ability of Canadians to benefit from clever ideas that happened to have been developed by a Chinese rather than an American brain. Canada might want to give into US pressure on other issues, but it needs to ensure that Chinese ideas and Chinese tech firms such as Huawei remain welcome.

If we accept that the free flows of ideas is the foundation of economic growth and that a country will be better off if it accepts good ideas from all directions, we can conclude that Canada ought to release the imprisoned Huawei executive and make it clear that it is open to doing business with China’s best and brightest entrepreneurs and technologists.







Economic history and contemporary challenges to globalization

18 12 2018

by Kevin Hjortshøj O’Rourke

I’m sharing the abstract of an important new paper.

The paper surveys three economic history literatures that can speak to contemporary challenges to globalization: the literature on the antiglobalization backlash of the nineteenth century, focused largely on trade and migration; the literature on the Great Depression, focused largely on capital flows, the gold standard, and protectionism; and the literature on trade and warfare.

This new working paper deals with a really important issue. Especially since 2016, the term de-globalization has entered common currency, and not just in the financial press. I’ve seen this term being used by banking executives who are trying to make sense of the current state of the world’s political and economic system. In fact, I see evidence that the growing belief among executives that significant de-globalization is imminent has influenced the strategies of important firms such as HSBC and Barclays. For that reason, I think that the key sentence in O’Rourke’s paper is this:

just as economic historians’ first instinct was to try to temper some of the ‘globaloney’ of the 1990s (Susan Strange 1998), so their first task today should perhaps be to calm talk of the imminent demise of globalization. 

O’Rourke’s paper makes very effective use of the extant literature in cycles of globalization and deglobalization in economic history, but unfortunately the author has overlooked the relevant literature in business history, the parallel body of research done by scholars in management scholars. In particular, O’Rourke’s paper could have been improved had the author looked at an edited collection that appeared a couple of years ago called  The Impact of the First World War on International Business Strategy. The papers in the collection, which were mostly firm-level studies, supported the thesis that the First World War, which is commonly seen as inaugurating a de-globalization phase in world economic history,  merely changed the nature of globalization by forcing multinational firms to adopt different organizational forms.