The Usefulness of History in Business and Economics
The study of business, economics and management is currently lacking in an integrating theoretical framework, despite an obvious overlap in content. A potential source for such a framework is provided by the historical context which is similar for each of these study areas. However the use of history in each area is currently both fragmentary and contradictory. Economic theory treats economic history as applied economics, a laboratory testing ground for particular theories rather than a legitimate context for all economics. Much economics is ahistorical, and deliberately so. Business histories exist independently of any systematic application of economic or management theory. It is a rare practitioner who consciously uses such theory in a business history or draws theoretical lessons from the historical analysis in the relevant business history. Case studies, or rather case histories, have been used in management studies from the beginning as an important pedagogical approach, but the theoretical grounds for doing so and for using such cases in systematic research are not investigated in any depth. This paper seeks to show how the historical context can link these study areas together. An appropriate meta-theory reflecting the historical nature of these areas of study can unify them in a way not achieved before.
Keywords: Economic history, Business history, Case histories, Unifying meta-theory
Prof. Colin Michael White
Risk manager, Risk division, National Bank of Australia