Article | Scandinavian Economic History Review

The Future of Economic, Business, and Social History

by G. Jones, Marco H.D. van Leeuwen and Stephen Broadberry


Three leading scholars in the fields of business, economic, and social history review the current state of these disciplines and reflect on their future trajectory. Geoffrey Jones reviews the development of business history since its birth at the Harvard Business School during the 1920s. He notes the discipline's unique record as a pioneer of the scholarly study of entrepreneurship, multinationals, and the relationship between strategy and structure in corporations, as well as its more recent accomplishments, including exploring new domains including family business, networks, and business groups, and retaining an open architecture and inter-disciplinary approach. Yet Jones also notes that the discipline has struggled to achieve a wider impact, in part because of methodological under-development. He discusses three alternative futures for the discipline. The first, which he rejects, is a continuing growth of research domains to create a diffuse "business history of everything." The second is a re-integration with the sister discipline of economic history, which has strongly recovered from its near-extinction two decades ago through a renewed attention to globalization and the Great Divergence between the West and the Rest. The third path, which the author supports, is that business historians retain a distinct identity by building on their proud tradition of deep engagement with empirical evidence by raising the bar in methodology and focusing on big issues for which many scholars, practitioners and students seek answers. He identifies four such big issues related to debates on entrepreneurship, globalization, business and the natural environment, and the social and political responsibility of business.

Keywords: Economic History; business history; History; Asia; Africa; Europe; Latin America; North and Central America;


Jones, G., Marco H.D. van Leeuwen, and Stephen Broadberry. "The Future of Economic, Business, and Social History." Scandinavian Economic History Review 60, no. 3 (2012): 225–253.