Upcoming Events


  • May09
    • 09 - 10  May 2019
    • Conference

    Seeking the Unconventional in Forging Histories of Capitalism

    This two-day workshop brings together scholars in the fields of history, economics, and management to explore the unconventional as it relates to researching and writing about entrepreneurship and business. The goal is to critically assess frameworks and approaches that animate scholarship in business history, the history of capitalism, and the comparative study of markets and institutions both past and present. We envision three complementary areas of discussion, i.e. unconventional techniques, unconventional sources, and unconventional capitalisms.

Business History Seminar

Held most Mondays from 3:30pm-5pm in Chao Center, Elaine Conference Room 300, the title of this year's seminar series is Business and Urban Development. These seminars are organized by Kristin Fabbe, Geoff Jones, and Laura Phillips Sawyer.

These seminars are open to the public and feature a reception at the conclusion of each seminar.

  • Nov16
    • 16  Nov 2018
    • Business History Seminar

    “Selling the Revolution: Communist China's Capitalist Ambassadors, 1949-1966”

    Christopher R. Leighton, MIT
    *This meeting will take place in Baker 101, rather than in the Chao Center.
  • Nov19
    • 19  Nov 2018
    • Business History Seminar

    “Democracy Electric: Energy and Economic Citizenship in an Urbanizing America”

    Abby Spinak, Harvard University

Political Economy of Modern Capitalism Seminar

Launched in fall of 2005 by Professors Sven Beckert (FAS, Dept. of History) and Christine Desan (HLS), this graduate student-faculty research seminar on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism aims to provide a forum for the intensive interdisciplinary study of capitalism with particular attention to it as an historically situated process of regulating social relations. This year, the workshop focuses on this question of capitalism and democracy. It is an issue of great contemporary relevance, but one that can only be understood in historical perspective and by embedding new analysis in a distinguished and vibrant literature.

For a schedule of this year’s seminars, please visit the Study of Capitalism website. The seminar meets most Mondays from 4-6pm in the Lower Library of Robinson Hall.


Past Events

Conferences, Seminars, & Workshops

  • Nov16
    • 16  Nov 2018
    • Business History Seminar

    “Selling the Revolution: Communist China's Capitalist Ambassadors, 1949-1966”

    Christopher R. Leighton, MIT
    *This meeting will take place in Baker 101, rather than in the Chao Center.
  • Nov05
    • 05  Nov 2018
    • Business History Seminar

    “A Social History of Urban Expertise: Between Techno-bureaucratic Rule and the Right to the City in Twentieth-Century Mexico”

    Matthew Vitz, UC San Diego
  • Oct29
    • 29  Oct 2018
    • Business History Seminar

    “Paris, City of Finance: Domesticating Investment in Nineteenth Century France”

    Alexia Yates, University of Manchester
  • Oct22
    • 22  Oct 2018
    • Business History Seminar

    “Socioeconomic Inequality across Religious Groups: Self-Selection or Religion-Induced Human Capital Accumulation? The Case of Egypt”

    Mohamed Saleh, Toulouse School of Economics
  • Oct15
    • 15  Oct 2018
    • Business History Seminar

    “The Role of Global Merchants: The Case of the Sassoons”

    Joseph Sassoon, Georgetown University
  • Jun14
    • 14  Jun 2018
    • Conference

    Understanding and Overcoming the Roadblocks to Sustainability


    Over the past several decades, a vibrant scholarly community has generated thousands of empirical and conceptual studies on the complex relationship between business and the natural environment. At the same time, many large corporations have created positions of Corporate Sustainability Officer with the goal of achieving steady improvements in their sustainability performance. Despite substantial academic research and management attention, complex ecological challenges continue to grow. This unfortunate disconnect between aspirations and reality has begun to provoke some self-reflection in the business and natural environment literature concerning its impact and relevance.

    A significant body of research on corporate sustainability has examined win-win outcomes, where firms have reduced their environmental and other impacts while reaping economic benefits. Less attention has been devoted to tensions inherent in corporate sustainability, where moving in the direction of sustainability has required managers to change their business models, form risky partnerships, and otherwise incur net costs. Recent empirical business history research appears to show that profits and sustainability have been hard to reconcile throughout history. These tensions and conflicts merit careful examination from a variety of scholarly and practitioner perspectives.

    This conference will focus on the roadblocks to sustainability since the 1960s and develop a research agenda for scholars seeking to overcome those roadblocks. In addition to offering a retrospective analysis of where corporate sustainability has fallen short, the conference will explore the incentives, organizational designs, and institutional systems that would allow sustainability to take hold.

    Registration details can be found on the conference registration page.

  • Jun05
    • 05  Jun 2018
    • Conference

    New Perspectives on U.S. Regulatory History: Past & Present of Public Utilities and Antitrust Law


    This research conference seeks to bring together leading historians and legal scholars interested in the history and future of the U.S. regulatory tradition. During his renowned career at HBS, Professor Tom McCraw helped establish the field of regulatory studies, bridging the fields of history, law, economics, and political science. His work focused on both firms and their regulatory environment to explain economic development in the United States. His scholarship contributed to important works of legal and business history on the evolution of the corporate form, the influence of corporate actors on public regulation, and the importance of social science research on regulatory choices. Since then, the field of regulatory studies has taken off in both history departments and law schools; however, the two disciplines have taken divergent paths. Historians have emphasized the external social and cultural pressures that have shaped firms’ behavior, such as the efforts by interest groups to limit or redirect corporations’ economic power. Legal scholars, on the other hand, have emphasized the internal development of administrative bureaucracy to explain how state capacity changed over time and interacted with interest group movements. This conference reinvigorates McCraw’s insight that interdisciplinary dialogue is necessary to understand the complexities of modern regulatory policy.

    The conference also builds on the HBS tradition that McCraw helped establish by bringing together business historians and legal scholars interested in bridging disciplines and transcending historiographical tropes. The conference thus will convene leading scholars whose collaboration will influence the future of U.S. regulatory policy and academic studies.

    The format of this research conference will be four panels over the course of a single day; each will have three paper presentations followed by brief comments from a discussant. Additional time will be allotted for audience questions. The last session will be a roundtable on future directions for U.S. regulatory policy in public utilities and antitrust law. The roundtable discussants will integrate themes from the day with their own insights and open up a discussion with the audience.

    More details can be found on the conference registration page.

  • Nov06
    • 06  Nov 2017
    • Business History Seminar

    “Politics, Institutions, and Diversified Business Groups: Comparisons across Developed Countries”

    Ben Schneider, MIT
  • Oct30
    • 30  Oct 2017
    • Business History Seminar

    “Decoding the Balance Sheet: Material Objects, Symbolic Capital, and the Liquidation of the League of Nations”

    Carolyn Biltoft, Graduate Institute Geneva, Switzerland
  • Oct23
    • 23  Oct 2017
    • Reception

    The Book of the Art of the Trade: A Celebration


    Baker Library and HBS professors Dante Roscini and Sophus Reinert will host a reception to celebrate a new translation of Benedetto Cotrugli’s The Book of the Art of Trade (1458). The new edition of the book, which recounts the life and work of a Mediterranean merchant, contains scholarly essays from Niall Ferguson, Giovanni Favero, Mario Infelise, Tiziano Zanato and Vera Ribaudo. The reception will also provide an opportunity to recognize the Italian manuscript collections in Baker Library, including more than 150 ledgers and other manuscript volumes belonging to the Medici family dating from late 14th and early 18th century.

    The reception will be held in Baker Library Lobby from 5:30pm-8pm and is open to the public. We especially encourage graduate students and faculty to attend. Please RSVP your attendance to Holly Salter.

  • Oct23
    • 23  Oct 2017
    • Business History Seminar

    “The Origins of Ethnic Orders and the Political Economy of Identity in Malaysia”

    Thomas Pepinsky, Cornell University
  • Oct19
    • 19 - 20  Oct 2017
    • Conference

    Capitalism in the Countryside: Graduate Student Conference


    In a world that continues to be mostly ocean, countryside, forest, and desert and with nearly half the world’s population still living and laboring in such locations, we seek to decenter the city and metropole and problematize progress narratives that render capitalist and urban formations inevitable. Proceeding outward from any world region, we hope to tackle a number of theoretical, historiographical, and methodological questions ranging from the origins of a capitalist world-system in the sixteenth century, to the relationship between slavery and capitalism, to the politics of development in the twenty-first century. These questions will touch on the changing ways in which people relate to land, water, and other materials and the claims they make on them; the power relationships that govern those claims; how life is imagined and sustained, how livelihoods are made and unmade, and how belonging is constructed and contested.

    With this conference, we will bring together rising scholars from a range of disciplines and interdisciplines who study capitalism in non-urban locations. This conference is organized by the Program on the Study of Capitalism at Harvard University.

  • Oct16
    • 16  Oct 2017
    • Business History Seminar

    “Legal Change and Business Enterprise in the Middle East, 1850 to Present”

    Seven Agir, Middle East Technical University, Turkey
  • Oct02
    • 02  Oct 2017
    • Business History Seminar

    “The Economics of World War II in Southeast Asia”

    Gregg Huff, Oxford University
  • Sep25
    • 25  Sep 2017
    • Business History Seminar

    “Co-ethnic Capital in Coastal China and India: The Developmental Diasporas of Guangdong and Kerala”

    Kellee Tsai, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  • Jul14
    • 14  Jul 2017
    • Conference

    Oral History, Business History and Business Archives in India

    This one-day conference held at the Harvard Business School India Research Center in Mumbai brought together business historians, business archivists, and business practitioners to discuss the role of oral history in the growth of business history in India.

    Geoffrey Jones discussed the Creating Emerging Markets project and how the oral histories being generated were being used in both teaching and research. Chinmay Tumbe (IIM-Ahmedabad) reviewed how oral history had developed in India and its role in business history. Among other recent initiatives he discussed "itihaasa", a project to document the growth of the Indian IT industry through oral history.

    The second half of the conference heard presentations from the Chief Archivists of two of the most important corporate archives in India. Vrunda Pathare (Godrej Group) discussed her group’s oral history program, which has undertaken audio interviews with dozens of present and former staff. These interviews, which can be consulted at the Archives, are noteworthy for capturing the memories of present and former staff at all levels of the organization. Finally Usha Iyer (Cipla Ltd) explored the challenges of making business archives relevant within her own company, noting how she employed innovative and proactive social networking strategies to build a strategic presence.

    Throughout the day participants explored the continuing methodological challenges in conducting oral history, including the choice between audio and video recordings, and the language in which such interviews should be conducted. The urgent need to develop agreed standards was stressed by many participants. There was also considerable discussion of the ongoing challenges faced by researchers who sought to use oral history material in academic journals.
  • Jun29
    • 29  Jun 2017
    • Conference

    Capitalism and the Senses

    This one-day workshop brought together scholars from various disciplines, including marketing, history, and anthropology, to explore how businesses developed marketing strategies to appeal to consumers’ senses from the nineteenth century to today. Attention to sensory appeals became a crucial part of business strategies in the modern consumer-oriented economy. The workshop encouraged participants to explore such themes as the creation of sensory experience in modern capitalist society from cross-cultural perspectives, the impact of technological development on sensory perception, the commercialization of the senses, and the construction of knowledge about the senses. The program featured HBS faculty Gerald Zaltman and John Quelch, as well as prominent scholars in the studies of the senses and the history of science, David Howes, Steven Shapin, and David Suisman.
  • Jun05
    • 05  Jun 2017
    • Conference

    Digital Technologies in the Social Sciences

    While the use of new technologies in the humanities and social sciences has exploded in recent years, little sustained attention has been given to questions of how these techniques can contribute to business and economic history. Digitized sources can improve our access to materials and can help us place our own individual case studies into broader contexts. But have digital projects provided any real and original blueprints for changing our historical methodologies and rethinking our conclusions? This international workshop at Harvard Business School brought together experts at the forefront of the application of new technologies to the study of economic and business history, as well as to the history of political economy, to explore different projects, technologies, and techniques in the field and assess the degree to which digital resources can change our scholarly approaches or result in new discoveries. In addition to allowing practitioners at the vanguard of the digital social sciences to interact, exchange ideas, and codify best practices, the workshop focused on the question of whether digital techniques simply aid us in confirming our hypotheses with more or better visualized data or whether digital approaches can enable us to ask radical new questions.​
  • Mar27
    • 27  Mar 2017
    • Conference

    Stakeholder Capitalism in Turbulent Times

    This event celebrated the launch of the English language edition of a new study of Shibusawa Eiichi, a serial entrepreneur in nineteenth century Japan, who was an exponent of what is now called stakeholder capitalism. During the contemporary crisis of global capitalism, Shibusawa’s ideas have again become relevant and meaningful. The program featured HBS’s Geoff Jones and George Serafeim, leading European and Japanese business historians Patrick Fridenson, Janet Hunter and Takkeo Kikkawa, and prominent Boston business leader Larry Fish.
  • Feb13
    • 13  Feb 2017
    • Conference

    Creating Emerging Markets: Lessons from History


    This conference, held in Mumbai, brought together business practitioners, policy makers, and scholars in South Asia to discuss how the new materials being generated by the BHI’S Creating Emerging Markets project can shed light on key issues facing South Asian businesses now. These include spurring innovation, managing family business, relations with governments, and corporate responsibility. The broader agenda explored and debated what we can learn from history at a time of turbulent change. The sessions were moderated by HBS Professors Srikant Datar, Geoffrey Jones and Tarun Khanna.

    You can find more information on the conference website.
  • Dec05
    • 05  Dec 2016
    • Business History Seminar

    “Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff”

    Edward Balleisen, Duke University
  • Nov28
    • 28  Nov 2016
    • Business History Seminar

    “World's Apart: The Cold War in the 20th Century”

    Arne Westad, Harvard University
  • Nov14
    • 14  Nov 2016
    • Business History Seminar

    “Corporate Ownership and Vertical Integration into Selling, 1857-1883”

    Eric Hilt, Wellesley College
  • Nov07
    • 07  Nov 2016
    • Business History Seminar

    “Shaping Computers and the Computing Industry in the United States, 1940-2010”

    Lars Heide, HBS (Visiting Fellow) and Copenhagen Business School
  • Oct28
    • 28  Oct 2016
    • Conference

    Varieties of Big Business: Business Groups in the West


    Organized by David Collis, Asli Colpan, and Geoffrey Jones

    This conference brought together scholars interested in business strategy and organization, governance, and economic development. The discussions explored the long-term evolution and developmental role of different varieties of large enterprises in the developed economies of North America and Western Europe, focusing on understudied business groups. This conference also examined nation-specific large-enterprise economies and the diversified business groups within them, and the resilience, stagnation or disappearance of the business group organization in international perspectives.
  • Oct17
    • 17  Oct 2016
    • Business History Seminar

    “States, Not Nation: The Sources of Political and Economic Development in the Early United States”

    Naomi Lamoreaux, Yale University