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Reimagining Business History

Business history needs a shake-up, Philip Scranton and Patrick Fridenson argue, as many businesses go global and cultural contexts become critical. Reimagining Business History prods practitioners to take new approaches to entrepreneurial intentions, company scale, corporate strategies, local infrastructure, employee well-being, use of resources, and long-term environmental consequences.

During the past half century, the history of American business became an unusually active and rewarding field of scholarship, partly because of the primacy of postwar American capital, at home and abroad, and the rise of a consumer culture but also because of the theoretical originality of Alfred D. Chandler. In a field long given over to banal company histories and biographies of tycoons, Chandler took the subject seriously enough to ask about the large patterns and causes of corporate success. Chandler and his students found the richest material for theorizing about the course of business history in large companies and their institutional structures and cultures. Meantime, Scranton and others found smaller firms, those specializing in batch work as opposed to mass-produced goods, far closer to the norm and more telling.

Scranton and Fridenson believe that the time has come for a sweeping rethinking of the field, its materials, and the kinds of questions its practitioners should be asking. How can this field develop in an age of global markets, growing information technology, and diminishing resources? A transnational collaboration between two senior scholars, Reimagining Business History offers direction in forty-four short, pithy essays.

About the Authors

Philip Scranton is University Board of Governors Professor, History of Industry and Technology, at Rutgers University and editor-in-chief of the journal Enterprise and Society. Patrick Fridenson is emeritus professor of international business history at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and founding editor of Entreprises et Histoire. Both are former presidents of the Business History Conference.

Endorsements

Business history too readily behaves as a smaller and submissive sibling of economics and economic history. In Reimagining Business History, the authors suggest more expansive and rewarding possibilities, and their attempt to push the field beyond its unacknowledged limits is to be applauded.

- Paul Duguid, University of California, Berkeley

Reviews

Reimagining Business History belongs in American history and business collections alike and provides new approaches to understanding the evolution of companies, corporate strategies, and resources.

- Midwest Book Review

An important and provocative book, not only in terms of business history but also in terms of the wider discipline, as the authors’ plea for greater interaction with other historians.

- Joe Martin - American Historical Review

I really hope that business historians will read this book, because it is apt to open new roads and strengthen the discipline in such a way as to make of it a more assertive component of the larger field of "Economic History," which cannot be left only to macro-econometricians.

- Vera Zamagni - EH.Net
Johns Hopkins University Press
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