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Business History at LSE: An Empiricist Voice

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Abstract

Many pioneers of economics blended empirical work effortlessly with their theoretical work, though critics alleged that theory became increasingly divorced from empirics after 1945. Yet many LSE academics—from Ronald Coase and Edith Penrose to Geoffrey Owen and John Sutton—consistently rooted their work in the founders’ aims of studying ‘the concrete facts of industrial life’, generating and testing important ideas in industrial economics. A distinctive LSE initiative in 1978 was the foundation of the Business History Unit, a wellspring of later developments in the subject of business history within the UK and internationally. The core staff and the Unit’s students and diaspora at home and abroad contributed to the analysis of entrepreneurship, technical innovation and comparative business development.

Keywords

  • Business history
  • History of technology
  • Financial history
  • Business economics
  • Industrial economics
  • Empiricism
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Corporations
  • Varieties of capitalism

The author is grateful (without implicating them in the result) for comments on an earlier version from David Edgerton, Howard Gospel, Terry Gourvish, David Jeremy, Geoffrey Jones, Colin Lewis, Jonathan Liebenau and Kazuo Wada. Memories of the author and other subjects of this chapter may mislead, but details have been checked against independent sources and against records retained in the LSE Library, including the Annual Reports and Newsletters of the Business History Unit in the Pamphlets Collection.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For an authoritatively global survey of business history as an academic discipline, locating it firmly within this tradition, see Kipping et al. (2016).

  2. 2.

    Published in 1919 and 1923 respectively.

  3. 3.

    This resulted in three volumes by Wilson: The History of Unilever: A Study in Economic Growth and Social Change (Wilson 1954, two volumes) and Unilever, 1945-1965: Challenge and Response (Wilson 1968). A fourth and fifth were later completed by one-time members of the BHU: Fifty Years of Unilever, 1930-1980 (Reader 1980) and Renewing Unilever (Jones 2005).

  4. 4.

    See the chapter in the current volume on LSE and economic history by Colin Lewis.

  5. 5.

    Compare, for example, the published work on joint-stock companies of the Fabian economic history lecturer, H.A. Shannon, who favoured German-style regulation to prevent excessive corporate risk-taking (Shannon 1932), with the—at the time—unpublished theses of Alan Essex-Crosby (1937) and James B. Jefferys (1938 thesis, later published as Jefferys 1977), exploring the creative roles of capital markets. See also Hill (1950).

  6. 6.

    Hayek (1954) was largely an attack on socialist history as empirically faulty. Hayek was at LSE from 1931 to 1950 and Chicago from 1950 to 1962 (see the chapter in the current volume on Hayek by Boettke and Piano).

  7. 7.

    Housed at Harvard, this was essentially an informal group of interested Cambridge and nearby professors with some project staff and junior visitors, attending a (‘post-cocktail’) seminar and publishing the journal Explorations in Entrepreneurial History. It was mainly funded by a Rockefeller grant of $230,000, coordinated by Arthur H. Cole and others (see Crandall 1960).

  8. 8.

    She left the USA for Australia and Iraq to study the oil industry, with her British husband, after defending her Johns Hopkins colleague, Owen Lattimore, falsely accused by McCarthy of being a Soviet spy; the couple then fled the Baathist Revolution in Baghdad to London in 1959. She held a joint University of London Readership at SOAS and LSE from 1959 to 1964, spending her later career at SOAS and INSEAD. Her Theory of the Growth of the Firm was first published in 1959.

  9. 9.

    Coase’s later work on whether lighthouses are a public good remains a masterpiece of applied British business history (Coase 1974). For a fuller list of his writings in business history, see Landes et al. (1983).

  10. 10.

    Lord Robbins (1971: 126–127) notably praises Plant, Coase, Yamey and Edwards (as well as more obvious theoretical giants like Hicks and Hayek), yet fails to mention Tawney, Power, Ashton or Penrose (though he praises the labour historian/economist, Henry Phelps-Brown and the economic historian/development economist Arthur Lewis). Both Beveridge and Robbins successfully opposed the use of the Harvard case method, except for short executive courses (Howson 2012: 221–222).

  11. 11.

    See Coase (1973), a shortened, compiled version of a series of 12 articles which appeared in The Accountant between October-December 1938, and for Coase’s later reflections on the benefits of interaction between accountants and economists, based on his LSE experience, see his ‘Accounting and the Theory of the Firm’ (Coase 1990). For his other articles on public utility pricing, see Landes et al. (1983).

  12. 12.

    Some were published in Edwards and Townsend (1958, 1961, 1966). A full set of the 452 papers delivered in 1946–1973 is in the LSE Archives, Reference MISC 332.

  13. 13.

    Its Financial Markets Group was not established until 1987.

  14. 14.

    They had become acquainted while Barker was writing Barker (1976) which, amongst other things, clarified that Sir Alastair, a Cambridge-trained engineer, was no relation to the family which founded and still owned the firm.

  15. 15.

    Richardson was then writing his seminal (Richardson 1972). The second supervisor was John Wright (who doubled as economist and economic historian) and his external examiners were G.C. Allen (pioneer management researcher and student of Japan’s rise) and Aubrey Silberston (an industrial economist specialising in patents and monopolies). As an undergraduate historian, Hannah had been strongly influenced by his tutor, Keith Thomas (both Hannah and Paul Johnson in LSE’s Economic History Department later contributed to the Festschrift for this pioneer of using anthropological insights to understand early modern society and beliefs, who inspired work far beyond his own specialisms). John Kay, an Edinburgh mathematics graduate and contemporary postgraduate economics student at Nuffield and St John’s, was also a formative influence: he and Hannah had co-authored Concentration in Modern Industry: Theory, Measurement and the UK Experience, which showed the emptiness of the variance of logs as a measure of concentration, located the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index as an arbitrary point on a theoretical continuum and demonstrated that mergers (not the Gibrat effect) mainly accounted for Britain’s unusually high levels of concentration. Between Oxford and Cambridge, Hannah had been an economics Lecturer in the remarkably young department fostered by Tony Atkinson and Christopher Bliss at Essex University, most of whose members became Ivy League economics professors.

  16. 16.

    The Rise of the Corporate Economy was published in 1976 (Hannah 1976a), with various subsequent hardback and paperback editions, including a Japanese translation by Takeshi Yuzawa entitled Dai Kigyo Keizai no Kouryu, which appeared in 1987.

  17. 17.

    See the chapter in the current volume on Morishima by Naoki Matsuyama.

  18. 18.

    Major synthetic works on the subjects that Jones made his own included Jones (1988, 1993, 1996, 2000) and Hertner and Jones (1986).

  19. 19.

    At various stages, they included, from academia, Leslie Pressnell, Sir Douglas Hague, Donald Coleman, Rupert Hall, Dorothy Wedderburn, Basil Yamey, John Smith, Ben Roberts, Harold Edey, Susan Strange, Fred Halliday; and, from outside, the Labour politician Edmund Dell, freelance writer William Reader, and businessmen including Sir Peter Parker of British Rail, Sir Donald Barron of Rowntree, Sir Arthur Knight of Courtaulds and the National Enterprise Board, Sir Michael Caine of Booker McConnell and Sir Anthony Part of Orion Insurance.

  20. 20.

    On two exceptional occasions, the Chairman of a company sponsoring research attempted to censor or change results intended for publication. One complained of low-quality research and an internal enquiry agreed he was right: the wrong was remedied by redoing the work (whose extra costs the company generously and voluntarily funded). Another threatened to initiate a libel suit that would bankrupt the researcher, if conclusions that he (wrongly) considered unsupported were not excised. The BHU Director, who had good press contacts from his time on a student newspaper, informed the complainant that the offending results would be published regardless and advised him to contemplate that his crude blackmail might be exposed in The Sunday Times the following weekend. No more was heard of the complaint, the offending report was published uncensored, and no more funding was received.

  21. 21.

    This funding preceded the Director’s appointment as Chairman of the ESRC’s Economic and Social History Committee and membership of the Industry and Employment Committee. Unaccountably, the ESRC later refused funding for the data analysis which it was intended should follow, but for initiatives that made up for this (see Jeremy 1984, 1990 and Section 5 below).

  22. 22.

    His PhD was published by MIT Press as Transatlantic Industrial Revolution: The Diffusion of Textile Technologies Between Britain and America, 17901830, and in 1981 received the Dexter Prize of the Society for the History of Technology and the Dunning Prize of the American Historical Association. Jeremy later coedited Farnie and Jeremy (2004).

  23. 23.

    The Dictionary received a commendation from the judges of the Colvin Medal for reference works, and many contributors further strengthened the business elements of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (published by OUP from 2004 onwards). The most prolific contributors were Richard Davenport-Hines (64 entries), David Jeremy (51), Christine Shaw (50), Geoffrey Tweedale (29) and Robin Higham (25). Richard Davenport-Hines’s larger study Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior was published by Cambridge University Press in 1984 and won the Wolfson Prize. Geoffrey Tweedale’s later studies—Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Technology in Sheffield, 17431993 (1994) and Magic Mineral to Killer Dust: Turner & Newall and the Asbestos Hazard (2000), both published by Oxford University Press—twice won the Business Archives Council’s Wadsworth Prize. Useful by-products of the Dictionary’s systematic sampling included lists of the largest employers in 1907, 1935 and 1955 (see Shaw 1983; Johnman 1986; Jeremy 1990).

  24. 24.

    The Department’s PhDs included (in alphabetical order, with their later university affiliations in brackets): Tony Arnold (Essex, Exeter and Leicester), Gerben Bakker (Essex and LSE), Rosineida da Silva Bentes (Pará, Brazil), Andy Bielenberg (Cork), Michael Aldous (Belfast), Sergio Birchal (FGV Rio de Janeiro), Susan Bowden (York), Gordon Boyce (Newcastle NSW), Carlos Brando (Bogotá), Rajeswary Brown (Royal Holloway), Francesca Carnevali (Birmingham), David Chambers (Judge Institute, Cambridge), Martin Chick (Edinburgh), Chris Colvin (Belfast), Harold Dutton (Lancaster), Roy Edwards (Southampton), Anthony Gandy (London Institute of Banking and Finance), Andrew Godley (Reading), Eric Golson (Warwick), Francis Goodall (BHU), Regina Grafe (North-western and EUI Florence), Nicolas Grinberg (Buenos Aires), Naveed Hasan (Lahore), Richard Hawkins (Wolverhampton), Peter Howlett (LSE), David Jeremy (Manchester Metropolitan), Lewis Johnman (Westminster), Terrence Lapier (Wharton Business School), Giuliano Maielli (Queen Mary London), Gregory Marchildon (Johns Hopkins and Toronto), Ulrich Marsch (Munich), Helen Mercer (Greenwich), Ioanna Pepelasis Minoglu (Athens), Carlo Morelli (Dundee), Timo Myllyntaus (Turku), Sarah Palmer (Queen Mary London and Greenwich), Natacha Postel-Vinay (Warwick and LSE), Duncan Ross (Glasgow), Catherine Schenk (Glasgow and Oxford), Max-Stephan Schulze (LSE), Hiroshi Shimizu (Hitotsubashi), James Simpson (Carlos III Madrid), Peter Sims (Warwick and LSE), Anna Spadavecchia (Reading), Toshio Suzuki (Tohokudai), Kevin Tennent (York), Nick Tiratsoo (Luton), Adam Tooze (Cambridge and Yale), Ali Tunçer (UCL), Geoffrey Tweedale (Manchester Metropolitan), Maki Umemura (Cardiff), Aashish Velkar (Manchester), André Villela (Rio de Janeiro), Kazuo Wada (Nanzan and Tokyo), James Walker (Henley), Lorna Weatherill (St Andrews), Leonardo Weller (São Paolo), Timothy Whisler (St Francis College Pennsylvania), Jong-hyun Yi (Gachon) and Nuala Zahedieh (Edinburgh). In addition, four Cambridge PhD students were supervised in the BHU by special arrangement: James Bamberg (Cambridge and Warwick), Wayne Lewchuk (McMaster), Ratna Sudarshan (Delhi) and Steven Tolliday (Leeds). Peter Scott (Reading) and John Singleton (Wellington and Sheffield Hallam) did Master’s at LSE and PhDs elsewhere. The Unit’s first administrative secretary, Shirley Keeble, completed an LSE PhD part-time in 1984. Some PhDs chose careers in government, consulting, finance or as entrepreneurs: Robin Cohen joined London Economics, a business consultancy established by LSE professors and others, eventually becoming its Managing Director, while David Kynaston became a freelance writer, his multi-volume history of London as a financial centre combining fine historical scholarship with the readability of a trade book (for more than a decade he vied with Michael Porter on the bookshelves of senior executives I visited).

  25. 25.

    The BHU’s supporters included Rupert Hall in the History of Science Department and Aubrey Silberston and Dorothy Wedderburn in the Department of Social and Economic Studies. Among Imperial College PhDs, John Hendry converted to business history at the London Business School under the BHU/ESRC initiative and subsequently ran the Cambridge Judge Institute of Management MBA and was Dean of the Reading University Management School (publishing on general management and business ethics) and Mari Williams, after working in the BHU, transferred to the BP corporate history team in Cambridge.

  26. 26.

    Email from David Edgerton to the author, 12th December 2016. Among his publications as a visitor to the Unit was Edgerton (1984, 1987, 1988).

  27. 27.

    The 1980 BHU conference is reported in Turner (1984).

  28. 28.

    His commissions, among many others, included Reader (1970/1975, 1976, 1979, 1981).

  29. 29.

    See Gospel and Littler (1983). Littler was then a Research Officer at Imperial College, and among those attending were Hugh Clegg from Oxford, Jonathan Zeitlin from Birkbeck, Joseph Melling from Glasgow, Heidrun Homburg from Bielefeld, Wayne Lewchuk from Canada and Reiko Okayama from Japan. See also Gospel (1988, 1992, 2005) and Gospel and Fiedler (2013). In the USA, a parallel line of development was promoted by Sanford Jacoby and others.

  30. 30.

    The Business History Society of Japan, founded in 1964, had within a few years enrolled 350 members, earlier than American and European equivalents.

  31. 31.

    Professor Yonekawa was a pioneer of global business history, with comparisons of the UK, USA and Asia (see, for example, Yonekawa 1987, 1990, 1994; Farnie and Yonekawa 1988; Okochi and Yonekawa 1982; also see Suzuki 1991; Yuzawa 1985, 1994).

  32. 32.

    An early example was Van Helten and Cassis (1989).

  33. 33.

    Hannah was the overall series adviser. The book of the series was Pagnamenta and Overy (1984). While such initiatives are now lauded under the rubric of ‘impact factors’, they were rarer at the time and were not limited to enhancing public understanding: many years later these documentary films were still being used as teaching materials in history courses both at Harvard and in Cambridge, England.

  34. 34.

    Attracting both Eric Hobsbawm (an unreconstructed Marxist) and Arthur Seldon (of the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs) to its meetings (providentially not at the same time!) was no defence against the partisan labelling of the day.

  35. 35.

    The Harvard Center closed because its multiple funding applications were rejected in 1957/1958. It had hosted (albeit in some cases briefly (see Crandall 1960) some of the most distinguished economic historians of two generations, including Hugh Aitken, Bernard Bailyn, Noel Butlin, Alfred Chandler, Thomas Cochran, Lance Davis, Alexander Gerschenkron, Hrothgar Habakkuk, David Landes, Henrietta Larson, Maurice Lévy-Leboyer, Douglass North, Fritz Redlich, Henry Rosovsky, Barry Supple, Sylvia Thrupp, Charles Wilson and William Woodruff.

  36. 36.

    From 1993, at its new Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, which transferred in 2013 to King’s College London, opposite LSE. Edgerton deepened an earlier theme in questioning Whiggish, techno-nationalist interpretations of business history and current science policy, notably Edgerton (1991, 2008, 2010) and Edgerton and Horrocks (1994).

  37. 37.

    And later a closer neighbour to LSE, as founding Professor of Management at King’s College London.

  38. 38.

    Promoted to Professor in 1991, in 1993 he set up the Centre for International Business History (which still thrives), enriched by synergy with leading Reading economists studying multinationals. In 2002, he moved to the Harvard Business School, where he was soon appointed to the profession’s historic pinnacle, the Chair in Business History that Chandler had once occupied.

  39. 39.

    See footnote 24 above for students. Richard Davenport-Hines, after a spell as a Visiting Fellow at Reading, became a widely admired freelance writer and public intellectual. Stephanie Zarach, Stephanie Jones and Theo Barker set up companies operating bespoke corporate history services. Christine Shaw returned to her earlier career as a Renaissance historian at Warwick. Geoffrey Tweedale gained a Wellcome Trust grant to study the business response to asbestos-related diseases, later becoming a Professor at Manchester Metropolitan. Margaret Ackrill and Judy Slinn completed several firm histories and taught at Oxford Brookes University.

  40. 40.

    His colleagues marked his achievements in a Festschrift (Coopey and Lyth 2009). He remained a Visiting Fellow and became President of the Business Archives Council in 2015.

  41. 41.

    For example, the Centre for Business History in Scotland, initially under Professor Tony Slaven, on its establishment in Glasgow in 1987, and now under Professor Ray Stokes, had a large initial endowment and continuing support for operational expenses (from the Aggregate Foundation (now the William Lind Foundation) and Ballast Trust) and close integration with Glasgow’s Economic and Social History Department and Adam Smith Business School.

  42. 42.

    Among the archives which the BHU placed in the LSE Library were the much-cited papers of the Management Research Group No 1, donated by Mr. Harry Ward, its secretary. See: https://archives.lse.ac.uk/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=MRG.

  43. 43.

    Carlos Davila (Colombia) and Domingos (Brazil) were BHU Visiting Fellows and Colin Lewis in Economic History coordinated other links.

  44. 44.

    Anson later worked for Forrest Capie on the official history of the Bank of England and is now that Bank’s Archive Manager.

  45. 45.

    The former undertaken by Davenport-Hines and Slinn (1992) and Jones (2001), the latter by Fitzgerald (1995). There were also histories of Leopold Joseph (a City private bank), Tannoy, Abbott Laboratories (a US pharmaceutical business with operations in the UK) and the Timber Trade Federation as well as studies of mail order selling and the popular music industry.

  46. 46.

    At the time, Nicholas was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the LSE Economic History Department, but soon joined the Entrepreneurship Unit at Harvard Business School. He is now Professor of Business Administration there, responsible for teaching the ‘Coming of Managerial Capitalism’ course on the MBA, established by Chandler, McCraw and Tedlow.

  47. 47.

    Blanchard was then visiting from MIT where he was Professor of Economics; he was later Chief Economist at the IMF. See also Hannah (1992).

  48. 48.

    He is now a Senior Fellow in the Department of Management.

  49. 49.

    Shortlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 2016. Clark completed his undergraduate degree in Economic History (1990) at LSE and is Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in China and a major donor to LSE.

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Hannah, L. (2019). Business History at LSE: An Empiricist Voice. In: Cord, R. (eds) The Palgrave Companion to LSE Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-58274-4_4

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