Catherine Schenk on the Uses of the Past in International Economic Relations (UPIER) Project

15 10 2018

Catherine Schenk of Oxford is the lead researcher on a collaborative project that examines how public-sector decision-makers used economic-historical knowledge during and after the Global Financial crisis. I’m very interested in this project because it parallels my own research on how private-sector decision-makers (e.g., banking executives) used historical information during and after the crisis. In a recent interview with Anders Houltz of Sweden’s Centre for Business History, Catherine talked about her project.

CFP: Workshop on Monetary and Financial History

15 10 2018

Scholars are invited to submit proposals to a workshop on Monetary and Financial History that will be hosted at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System on May 6-8, 2019. This workshop will be a chance for researchers at academic, policy, and professional institutions to meet and discuss topics drawn from historical experience that not only help us understand the past but which frequently offer lessons and insights for today. Professor William Goetzmann from the Yale School of Management will deliver the keynote address.

Proposals on any topic related to monetary and financial history are welcome. The workshop is geared toward allowing researchers to receive feedback on newer projects, although more advanced projects will also be considered.

Proposals should be no more than five pages and should be sent to by December 14, 2018. Alternatively, proposals may be sent as a presentation slide deck, not to exceed 20 slides. Decisions will be made by February 28, 2019.

The Board will pay for domestic travel of presenters as well as for their accommodations.

Program committee: Mark Carlson and Ralf Meisenz

Historical Perspectives on Entrepreneurship and Public Policy

8 10 2018

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy
Guest Editor:
Michael J. Douma, Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business

Rationale for the special issue: 
1.    Promote historical understanding of entrepreneurship.
2.    Recognize the impact of entrepreneurs on historical change.
3.    Reconceptualize historians as entrepreneurs.
4.    Consider ways to add entrepreneurial activity to the syllabus and curriculum of business and economic history.

Josef Schumpeter lamented that historians generally believe that “all that is needed to explain a given historical development is to indicate conditioning or causal factors.” (Schumpeter, 1947). Schumpeter countered that the “creative response” that actors have to certain conditions and factors is less predictable. Indeed, historians can never know all of the conditions or factors contributing to change. We know that cause and effect can never been seen, but that it must be intuited from the evidence. By recognizing the creative responses of individual actors in history we can we see the practical failures of determinism in trying to explain the past. That is to say, the history of entrepreneurship seems to push back against the approach of aggregation, of materialist and determinist explanations of change, and even against institutionalism.

But what is the impact of the study of entrepreneurship in historical research today? While entrepreneurs frequently appear in works of economic and business history, is the entrepreneur otherwise missing from standard accounts of history? It seems, for example, that histories of national economy seldom place the entrepreneur in a central place. A notable exception to this is Gunderson’s history of the United States with entrepreneurs placed front and center. (Gunderson 1989). Mark Casson’s work also studies the history of entrepreneurs directly, showing their impact on society. (Casson 2013). Critically, Casson pulls the concept of the entrepreneur back into pre-modern history, well before the rise of capitalism, industrialization, the managerial revolution and other topics that receive the bulk of the interest in business history. Historians of entrepreneurship may find sympathy with cultural or idea-based explanations for historical change, such as those presented by Deirdre McCloskey. (McCloskey, 2006, 2010, 2015)

Direct historical studies of entrepreneurship bloomed in the 1970s, when the discipline of business history had a greater presence in American history departments. Some of the study programs launched in that earlier era attempted to measure the amount of entrepreneurship in a given place or time, or assess the impact of entrepreneurs in large patterns of economic change.  (Payne, 1974).  A notable example of a well-rounded research project in this direction is Paul Wilkens’ comparative historical study of entrepreneurship investigates the conditions influencing the emergence of entrepreneurship, without neglecting non-economic psychological and cultural factors.  (Wilken, 1979)  In recent decades, the Industrial Revolution has remained a subject of concern for historians writing about entrepreneurship, and many works in this field explicitly link entrepreneurship with economic growth, almost as if you cannot have one without the other.  (Landes, Mokyr, Baumol, 2012; Hansen 2009).

Historians often look to general factors to explain cause and effect. An economy grew because of a certain policy, wealth came from the discovery of a certain natural resource, a nation expanded because it developed a new, more efficient technology. In historical accounts, these factors are often treated as exogenous shocks that explain change. Historians of entrepreneurship might recognize that change can come from inside a culture, and that it might be attributed to one person, or just a small number of people. But the historical study of entrepreneurs may be handicapped because it resembles too much of the old-fashioned “history of great men.”  The social and cultural turn over the past forty years has led to a situation where historical change must be interpreted as the result of many and myriad large forces, not individual decision-making.  The history of entrepreneurship may offer a path for historians to return to the study of individuals and to ideas as a focus of historical change, while at the same time recognizing the importance of social and cultural contexts.

Historians of entrepreneurship have plenty of questions yet to ask. Is entrepreneurship only a modern phenomenon, and how has its nature changed over time? (McCaffrey, 2013)

Is an entrepreneur simply someone who succeeded at doing something different?   Is any creative thinker who applies their knowledge to solve problems an entrepreneur, regardless of their financial successes.  Does entrepreneurship only apply in business? Are not creative artists or explorers entrepreneurs? Although economists and scholars in related disciplines have offered answers to the questions, it seems evident that historians can add to this picture by discovering examples of successes and failures in experimentation in business. Perhaps the historical record can help us reshape our definition of the entrepreneur, and his or her role and impact on society.

Finally, historians of entrepreneurship should look for new ways to apply knowledge of their subject in public policy. Historical lessons do not provide absolute guides for behavior, but patterns in the past may give us the wisdom of recognizing analogous patterns of cause and effect in the present. In other words, we should ask ourselves what lessons our historical inquiries can teach about creating a social atmosphere and a legal and institutional structure that promotes entrepreneurship.

This journal issue welcomes article submissions on any topics related to the history of entrepreneurship. Papers that address the following topics are particularly encouraged: 
–    Case studies of entrepreneurs in a particular place and time.
–    Pedagogical inquiries about how to add entrepreneurs to the history curriculum, and to standard history textbook accounts of economic and social change.
–    Arguments about the benefits of adding entrepreneurs to the history curriculum or to research programs.
–    Studies of ethnic group entrepreneurs, or even meta-level studies of why American immigrant groups praise entrepreneurs and write hagiographic works focusing on the the contributions of their own entrepreneurs.
–    Papers that consider how the discipline of history has been portrayed as an entrepreneurial enterprise. Historical research requires fact-finding and analysis, but its goal seems to be to overturn standard positions, or least provide new arguments for old views. In this sense, historical research is a disruptive process, and historiography is like a market where a variety of historical views compete for control of the main narrative.
–     Articles that answer how historians can even develop a useful measuring stick for the amount of entrepreneurial spirit or activity a society present?

Submission Guidelines:  We invite empirical historical research, papers about historical methods and the philosophy of history, and papers on pedagogical approaches to history and entrepreneurship. Manuscripts must be original, unpublished works not currently under review for publication at another outlet and are expected to follow the standard formatting guidelines for the journal. Submission must be made online at : Submissions should be prepared according to the Manuscript Guidelines found at 

When submitting your manuscript, please ensure you select this special issue from the relevant drop down menu on page four of the submission process. Reviews, drafts and outcomes will be conducted through mid and late 2018, with publication for those accepted expected to be early 2019.

The submission deadline for this special issue is November 1 2018. 

Initial queries can be directed towards the guest editor at the following email address:

Guest Editor: 

Michael J. Douma is an Assistant Research Professor and Director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  He has published widely on the history of the Dutch, specifically on topics relating to slavery and migration.  His other historical research interests vary from the history of markets and Constitutions to the history of antiques and folk culture.  His fourth book, titled Creative Historical Thinking (forthcoming with Routledge in 2018), is a unique primer in historical methods. He is interested in interdisciplinary research and runs an annual seminar called Ethics Across the Curriculum to encourage undergraduate and graduate students to consider the role of normative thinking in the social sciences and the humanities.


Casson, Mark. The Entrepreneur in history: from medieval merchant to modern business leader (Palgrave Macmillan 2013).
Casson, Mark. Entrepreneurship, Theory, Networks, History (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Gunderson, Gerald. The Wealth Creators: An Entrepreneurial History of the United States (New York: Truman Talley Books, 1989)
Hansen, Bradley A.  Institutions, entrepreneurs and American economic history: how the Farmer’s Loan and Trust Company shaped the laws of business from 1822 to 1929 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2009).
Landes, David, Mokyr Joel & Baumol William (eds.) The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012,
McCaffrey, Matthew. “Conflicting Views of the Entrepreneur in Turn-of-the-Century Vienna” History of economics review, 58(1) (2013), 27 – 43-43.
McCloskey, Deirdre. 2006. Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McCloskey, Deirdre. 2010. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McCloskey, Deirdre. 2015. Bourgeois Equality: How Betterment Became Ethical, 1600–1948, and Then Suspect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Payne, Peter Lester. British entrepreneurship in the nineteenth century (London: Macmillan, 1974)
Schumpeter, J.A., “The Creative Response in Economic History”, in: Journal of Economic History vol. VII (1947), no. 2, pp. 149-159.
Wilken, Paul H. Entrepreneurship: a comparative and historical sutdy (Norwood, N.J.: Albex Pub. Corp, 1979.)

Long Run Initiative: Applying Hindsight to Foresight

2 10 2018


As a business historian who knows many of its creators, it is my pleasure to announce the creation of the Long Run Initiative, forum for academic experts, business leaders & public policymakers. It provides insights from the analysis of long-run experiences and trends to provide context and deepen understanding of the grand challenges facing businesses and government. LRI analysis focuses on where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going. I genuinely believe that this non-profit venture will improve decision-making in the public and private sector around the North Atlantic space. As a scholar and a citizen who is concerned about the nature tendency of humans to focus on the short-term future, I am very pleased see the launch of a venture that will promote long-term thinking. So much has been said and published recently about the problem of short-termism (see the recent FT piece by Larry Summers) and it is nice to see something being done about it. I am especially encouraged that the venture will help to translate business-historical and economic-historical research into actionable information for decision-makers. The founders of the Initiative (Prof. John Turner (UK)Dr. Laurence B. Mussio (Canada)and Dr. Michael Aldous (UK)) are to be commended!

The LRI’s Board of Governors include some senior figures, including:

  • Sir Jonathan Stephen Day, CBE (former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, UK) (United Kingdom)
  • The Hon. Kevin Gordon Lynch, former Clerk of Her Majesty’s Privy Council for Canada and Chairman of the Board of SNC Lavalin (Canada);
  • William Arthur Downe, CM, Immediate and Past Chief Executive Officer of Bank of Montreal Financial Group (Canada);
  • Dr. Judy Stephenson, The David Richards Fellow in Economic History, Wadham College, Oxford (United Kingdom)
  • Dr. Geoffrey Jones, Isidor Straus Professor of Business History, Harvard University (USA)

I am particularly interested in the LRI as some of my current papers are on the subject of how decision-makers use historical knowledge. My research findings to date suggest that the one of the reasons old companies have a competitive advantage is that they have built up a bank of very useful historical knowledge in their internal archives. In the video below, you can see one of my research collaborators presenting some research we did on the use of historical knowledge in a financial institution. My hypothesis is that retention and correct utilization of historical knowledge helps to explain corporate longevity.

Macron’s Language at the UN

1 10 2018

For while, I really admired French President Emmanuel Macron both for his substantive positions on policy issues and for his style. However, the hubristic and immodest language he used in his recent speech at the UN concerns me. As a journalist put it, “he was auditioning to be leader of the free world.” I tend to admire political leaders and CEOs who avoid grandiose language and instead focus on facts, facts, facts. In other words, I tend to prefer the data-rich speaking style of Michael Bloomberg to any recent US president. (Perhaps that reflects the fact I grew up in Canada, a generally well-managed country whose leaders rarely adopted hubristic or idealistic language of the sort US leaders have used for generations).


Consider this example of Macron’s language: “We stand ready to replace the US as leader of the world” See more here and here.

Macron’s language is highly hubristic, almost as hubris-filled as the speech of a US president. When a CEO suddenly starts using hubristic language, you should sell your shares (some academic research on hubristic language use by CEOs is here). Sadly, it is far harder for French residents to vote with their feet and move to Switzerland than it is for shareholders to liquidate their holdings in a company.

Remember French taxpayers: presidential hubris gets you big wars and crappy trains. Just look at the US.

I thank Prof. Geoffrey Miller for bringing Macron’s language to my attention.

The Problem with Harvard Business School Case Studies

25 09 2018

The discipline of business history has long been linked to the case-study method of teaching. It will therefore interest many readers of this blog to learn of a new article in the business press that talks about the historical origins of the case study method, which began at Harvard Business School and which was later adopted in management schools around the world. The article in Quartz disseminates some of the key findings presented in A New History of Management, an important new book by John Hassard, Michael Rowlinson, Stephen Cummings, and Todd Bridgman. Regardless of whether you are a friend or a foe of the use of case studies, I would encourage you to check out the piece in Quartz and the underlying scholarly works.

Personally, I’m glad to see that the life and ideas of HBS Dean Wallace Donham (1877-1954) is being investigated. In the 1920s, Donham was one of the most influential critics of shareholder primacy and the related idea that the maximization of shareholder value is the best criterion for judging the performance of managers. At a time when the idea of shareholder primacy is being scrutinized once again, it is encouraging to know that people are paying attention to Donham.

Congratulations to my PhD Student

24 09 2018

My PhD student Ian Jones has won the Best Developmental Paper award in the Management and Business History Track of the British Academy of Management conference, 2018. His research is funded jointly the AHRC and Barclays Bank. Ian is embedded in Barclays Group Archives, which has given him access to the data that allowed him to write his paper paper, “Using social media to develop a polyphonic approach to the use of rhetorical history at Barclays Bank.” His research investigates the way in which historical information drawn from the Archives is used, presented and interpreted for internal consumption, and how individual employees engage with existing historical narratives.


Jones BAM Award



Congratulations Ian.