In Cooperation with the Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte e. V.

Call for Papers

“The Virtues and Vices of Business — A Historical Perspective”


[The deadline for submitting proposals for the 2014 BHC meeting has now passed. We leave the CFP here for informational purposes. Please note that applications for the Oxford Journals Doctoral Colloquium may be submitted until November 15, 2013.]


The organizers invite papers and session proposals that address both the micro and macro levels of the virtues and vices of business in historical perspective. In keeping with longstanding BHC policy, submissions need not be directly related to the conference theme. The 2014 Program Committee consists of: Ed Balleisen, Duke University (chair); Chris McKenna, University of Oxford; Andrea Schneider, Society for Business History (Germany); Per Hansen, Copenhagen Business School (BHC President), and Jan-Otmar Hesse, University of Bielefeld.

Is business good or bad, or both? Does business serve private or public interests, or both? A variety of theories from the social sciences furnish different answers to these questions and, by implication, different ideas about the role of the state in creating the good society. The 2014 BHC annual meeting aims to address these issues from a historical and empirical perspective by exploring the virtues and vices of business across societies from the early modern period to the present.

Business firms—large corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs —have been decisive in securing economic growth and development through the First, Second, and Third Industrial Revolutions. By constantly innovating, imitating, and competing, business has changed the lives of billions of people all over the world. Firms have brought forward new products and services that enrich and improve our lives. The wider business community, including not just companies but also trade associations and informal networks, have fashioned solutions to numerous pressing social problems, whether concerning the environment, health and safety, discrimination, social isolation, or other aspects of modern life. One can similarly point to examples of business as a progressive force enabling minorities and poor people to shape better lives.

Yet, four hundred years of business history are also replete with examples of abusive and dehumanizing business practices, against other firms, individuals, and entire peoples. In some cases, as with plantation slavery and imperial expansion, the offending enterprises worked closely with state authorities. In others, the actions of business entities prompted calls for aggressive state intervention to minimize or end the negative effects of business. The occurrence of business scandals amid extreme cases of financial crisis offers especially well known historical instances of this type. But history offers an abundance of examples where business enterprises have generated serious externalities, yet nonetheless privatized profits while socializing risks borne by other stakeholders—and sometimes by shareholders as well. Around the industrialized world, business interests have also regularly interfered with politics, sometimes supporting non-democratic regimes, lobbying against the public interest, and fighting organized labor.

Should we view such episodes of corruption and abuses of economic power as regrettable costs that society must pay for increases in income and wealth? Do these unseemly aspects of capitalism merely represent the unavoidable process of Schumpeterian creative destruction? Or should we rather understand them as the result of specific, and contingent, institutional frameworks, business networks, and systems of corporate governance that increase the likelihood and occurrence of business scandals and crisis?

Another set of questions involves the evolution of societal understandings about "the good and virtuous," or "the bad and the vicious," that we use to praise or condemn particular markets, firms, or business practices. To what extent should we attribute the more abject failings of business, as judged from any particular social vantage point, to the decline of old and the rise of new social regimes that entail changes in discourse, narratives, cultural values, and norms? How have societies tried to set moral boundaries to the domain of business—either by prohibiting some businesses and markets outright, or by proscribing commercial practices as beyond the ethical pale? And how and why have those moral constraints on business activity changed over time?

Must we endure the vices of business so that society may enjoy its virtues? Do they result from state intervention that disturbs the delicate balancing act of markets, or from too little regulation that allows private business actors to pursue their own interests regardless of the costs to society? Or should we abandon the dichotomy of state and market altogether and replace it with a more historically based view of markets as embedded in social and cultural relations? Even if one accepts the "embeddedness" of market relations, we continue to face complicated questions about how to strike the best balance between private and public interests. How have societies attempted to strike this complex balance? What business networks, systems of corporate governance, and cultural, political, and social values have historically contributed to achieving this balance most constructively?

The committee will consider both individual papers and entire panels. Individual paper proposals should include a one-page (300-word) abstract and one-page curriculum vitae (CV). Panel proposals should include a cover letter stating the rationale for the panel and the name of its contact person; one-page (300-word) abstract and author's CV for each paper; and a list of preferred panel chairs and commentators with contact information. Graduate students and recent Ph.D.s (within 3 years of receipt of degree) whose papers are accepted for the meeting may apply for funds to partially defray their travel costs; information will be sent out once the program has been set. Everyone appearing on the program must register for the meeting.

The BHC annual meeting has been organized locally by the Gesellschaft für Unter-nehmensgeschichte (GUG, Society for Business History), and the GUG participates in the program committee. GUG members are encouraged to propose papers for this meeting. The language of the conference will be English. All sessions will take place at Goethe University in Frankfurt, and lodging will be in a number of area hotels.

The BHC awards the Herman E. Krooss Prize for the best dissertation in business history by a recent Ph.D. in history, economics, business administration, the history of science and technology, sociology, law, communications, and related fields. To be eligible, dissertations must be completed in the three calendar years immediately prior to the 2014 annual meeting, and may only be submitted once for the Krooss prize. If you wish to apply for this prize, please send a letter to the Krooss Prize Committee expressing your interest along with a one-page CV and one-page (300-word) dissertation abstract. After the Krooss committee has reviewed the proposals, it will ask semi-finalists to submit copies of their dissertations. Finalists will present summaries of their dissertations at a plenary session of the 2014 BHC annual meeting in Frankfurt and will receive a partial subsidy of their travel costs to the meeting.

The K. Austin Kerr Prize is awarded for the best first paper delivered by a new scholar at the annual meeting of the BHC. A "new scholar" is defined as a doctoral candidate or a Ph.D. whose degree is less than three years old. If you wish to participate in this competition, please notify the BHC program committee in your proposal. Proposals accepted for the Krooss Prize are not eligible for the Kerr Prize.

The CEBC-Halloran Prize in the History of Corporate Responsibility is awarded for a paper presented at the annual meeting of the BHC that makes a significant contribution to the history of corporate responsibility. Corporate responsibility is understood to embrace the many ways in which the firm relates to the political realm and the wider society.

The deadline for receipt of all proposals (papers, panels, and Krooss Prize competition) is 15 September 2013. Please send them to BHC2014@Hagley.org. Acceptance letters will be sent by 1 December 2013. Presenters are expected to submit abstracts of their papers for posting on the BHC website. In addition, presenters are encouraged to post electronic versions of their papers prior to the meeting.

The Oxford Journals Doctoral Colloquium in Business History will be held in conjunction with the BHC annual meeting. This prestigious workshop, sponsored by BHC and funded by the Journals Division of Oxford University Press, will take place in Frankfurt on Wednesday, March 12 and Thursday, March 13. The colloquium is limited to ten students. Participants work intensively with a distinguished group of BHC-affiliated scholars that includes at least two BHC officers. The colloquium will discuss dissertation proposals, relevant literatures and research strategies, and employment opportunities in business history. This colloquium is intended for doctoral candidates in the early stages of their dissertation projects. If you are interested in being considered for this colloquium, please submit to Roger Horowitz by 15 November 2013 to BHC2014@Hagley.org a statement of interest, a CV, a preliminary or final dissertation prospectus of 10-15 pages, and a letter of support from your dissertation supervisor (or prospective supervisor). Questions about the colloquium should be sent to its director, Pamela Laird, Pamela.Laird@ucdenver.edu. All participants receive a stipend that will partially cover the costs of their attendance at the annual meeting. The colloquium committee will notify all applicants of its decisions by 15 December 2013.