Business history

Agendas, historiography and debates

Authored by: Steven Toms , John Wilson

The Routledge Companion to Business History

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415855563
eBook ISBN: 9780203736036
Adobe ISBN: 9781135007836


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Business history has developed rapidly in recent decades to incorporate a wide range of methodologies in a variety of international contexts. The discipline began as a branch of economic history in the USA in the 1920s and in Britain in the 1950s (Supple, 1977; Wilson, 1995). Its emergence in Britain followed the publication of a series of influential company histories and the establishment of the journal Business History in 1958 at the University of Liverpool. The most influential of these early company histories was Charles Wilson’s History of Unilever, the first volume of which was published in 1954. Other examples included Coleman’s work on Courtaulds and artificial fibres, Alford on Wills and the tobacco industry and Barker on Pilkington’s and glass manufacture (for an overview, see Hannah, 1983; Wilson, 1995; Wilson and Toms, 2008). These early studies were conducted primarily by economic historians interested in the role of leading firms in the development of the wider industry, and therefore went beyond mere corporate histories. European and Japanese business historians were not slow to follow these models, engaging extensively in both corporate and broader industrial studies, providing a much richer range of material on which to start developing typologies of business evolution in different contexts (Farnie et al., 2000; Rowlinson, Toms and Wilson, 2007).

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