Business History Review

The Business History Review is a scholarly journal that seeks to publish articles with rigorous primary research that address major topics of debate, offer comparative perspectives, and contribute to the broadening of the subject. The journal is primarily concerned with the history of entrepreneurs, firms, and business systems, and with the subjects of innovation, globalization, and regulation. It also covers articles on the relation of businesses to the environment and to political regimes. The Business History Review is published in the spring, summer, autumn, and winter by Cambridge University Press for Harvard Business School.

  • Business History Review 85 (Spring 2011): 39-63

“Economics, History, and Causation”

by Randall Morck and Bernard Yeung

Economics and history both strive to understand causation: economics by using instrumental variables econometrics, and history by weighing the plausibility of alternative narratives. Instrumental variables can lose value with repeated use because of an econometric tragedy of the commons: each successful use of an instrument creates an additional latent variable problem for all other uses of that instrument. Economists should therefore consider historians' approach to inferring causality from detailed context, the plausibility of alternative narratives, external consistency, and recognition that free will makes human decisions intrinsically exogenous. Read Full Article

  • Business History Review 85 (Spring 2011): 9-37

“The Origin and Development of Markets: A Business History Perspective”

by Mark Casson and John S. Lee

The origins of the market are obscure, but substantial documentary evidence survives from the eleventh century onward, when chartered markets and new towns were established across Western Europe. The expansion of the market system is important for business history because it created new opportunities for business growth. There has been no systematic literature review on market evolution since Henri Pirenne and Raymond de Roover, and this article attempts to fill the gap. It shows that successful markets were regulated-often by civic authorities-to maintain a reputation for reasonable prices and quality control. Markets were located at both transport hubs and centers of consumption, even when the latter were quite remote. However, as transport and communication costs declined, shakeouts occurred and only the larger markets survived. Read Full Article

  • Business History Review 85 (Summer 2011): 245-271

“William Morris, Cultural Leadership, and the Dynamics of Taste”

by Charles Harvey, Jon Press, and Mairi Maclean

This examination of the social processes that inform cultural production asks how tastes are formed, transmitted, embedded, and reproduced across generations. These questions are explored through a study of William Morris, his working methods and products, and their impact on the decorative arts in Victorian Britain and beyond. Through the exercise of cultural leadership, Morris gave physical expression to the ideals and sentiments of Romanticism, and this in turn gave rise to a community of taste reaching across class boundaries and generations. Morrisian products and designs, through the agency of his disciples, became institutionally embedded, emblematic of refinement and good taste. A process model of taste formation is deployed to explore the economic and social dynamics at work in the Morris case and more generally. Read Full Article

  • Business History Review 85 (Summer 2011): 273-294

“From Industry to Luxury: French Perfume in the Nineteenth Century,”

by Eugénie Briot

The production of perfumery articles became an industry in the nineteenth century, and their broader social diffusion invites questions about the accuracy of perfume's identification at that time as a luxury product. The innovations generated or adopted by perfumers, whether they involved new extraction methods or the use of synthetic compounds, not only introduced new creative possibilities but also allowed wider margins on sales. The shift from artisanal fabrication to industrial manufacturing accompanied relatively steep increases in the price of perfumes. Nineteenth-century perfumers developed marketing strategies to build the value of their products and to position them as luxury goods. Read Full Article

  • Business History Review 84 (Winter 2010): 703-736

“Banks on Board: German and American Corporate Governance, 1870-1914,”

by Jeffrey Fear and Christopher Kobrak

This examination of the foundations of German and American corporate governance highlights the role of money-centered banks, both as board members in large corporations and as intermediaries on the stock exchange. German banks, by acting as surrogate regulators, became institutional stabilizers, and German regulators encouraged banks to participate in corporate boards in order to overcome agency problems in firms and to control speculation. American investment banks, prior to 1914, often managed to overcome regulatory obstacles, which enabled them to wield more power over corporations than their legendary German counterparts. American banks had more opportunities to intervene in the event of panics, bankruptcies, foreign investment, and corporate consolidation. In contrast to Germany, the United States increasingly imposed regulations that circumscribed the supervisory role of banks as board members. Read Full Article

  • Business History Review 85 (Spring 2011): 1-8

“Business History: Time for Debate,”

by Walter A. Friedman and Geoffrey Jones

An editorial essay calling for business historians to focus their research on answering big questions in a global and comparative fashion. Read Full Article


Harvard Studies in Business History

Harvard Studies in Business History is a series of scholarly books published by Harvard University Press. The series dates back to 1931, with the publication of Kenneth Wiggins Porter’s John Jacob Astor, Business Man, making it the oldest in the field. The series includes books by Mira Wilkins, Alfred D. Chandler Jr., Vincent Carosso and other distinguished pioneers of business history. Among recent titles is Pamela Laird’s Pull: Networking and Success Since Benjamin Franklin, winner of Hagley Prize. The series editors are Walter Friedman and Geoffrey Jones.

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Pull: Networking and Success Since Benjamin Franklin

by Pamela Walker Laird

Pull: Networking and Success Since Benjamin Franklin, revisits the popular American self-made story, and exposes the social dynamics that led some people toward opportunity and steered others away. It provides new perspectives on entrepreneurial achievement and shows that business is a profoundly social process. No one can succeed alone. Winner of the Hagley Prize by the Business History Conference

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Railroads and the Making of Modern China

by Elisabeth Köll

Railroads and the Making of Modern China (forthcoming), explores the extraordinary history of Chinese railroads through different phases of political regimes -- Imperial, Nationalist, and Communist -- and their institutional, social, and economic legacies and transformation throughout the Twentieth Century.

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Gentlemen Bankers: J.P. Morgan & Co. and the World of Investment Banking, 1895-1940

by Susie J. Pak

Gentlemen Bankers: J.P. Morgan & Co. and the World of Investment Banking, 1895-1940 (2013), describes the social and economic networks of J.P. Morgan & Co., the leading American investment bank before World War II. “Gentlemen Bankers is a window into a world that, for one fleeting moment, dominated American finance. By concentrating on the nonfinancial aspects of that world Ms. Pak greatly enriches our understanding of the entire era.” (John Steel Gordon, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 30, 2013)


Course Development

The business historians at the School engage in extensive course development for the three major MBA electives. There are now approaching one hundred historical cases available, many accompanied by teaching notes and course overview notes. A full list of cases can be found on individual faculty publication pages. A number of them are also available in languages other than English, including Spanish and Japanese. All case and teaching notes can be purchased from Harvard Business School Press.

Octopus and the Generals: The United Fruit Co. in Guatemala

by Geoffrey Jones and Marcelo Bucheli

Examines the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954 in a U.S.-backed coup in support of the United Fruit Co. Over the previous half century, United Fruit had built a large vertically integrated tropical fruit business that owned large banana plantations in the “banana republics” of Central America, including Guatemala.

The Ice King

by Tom Nicholas

Provides an opportunity to examine the risk-reward tradeoff and the travails of entrepreneurial venturing in the nascent U.S. economy. Traces the origins and development of Frederic Tudor’s Ice Company, a business which developed during the 19th century to hack chunks of ice from New England freshwater ponds and transport it by ship for sale around the globe.

The Dojima Rice Market and the Origins of Futures Trading

by David A. Moss and Eugene Kintge

In 1730, Japanese merchants petitioned shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune to officially authorize trade in rice futures at the Dojima Exchange, the world’s first organized (but unsanctioned) futures market.