Book Reviews: Accounting History 1976-1986: An Anthology

Article excerpt

Peter Boys and John Freear (Eds.), Accounting History 1976-1986: An Anthology (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992, 402 pp., $70).

Reviewed by Sudarwan Case Western Reserve University

This book is an anthology of papers from Accounting History, the former journal of the Accounting History Society of England and Wales, published during the years 1976-1986. Boys and Freear selected 26 of 56 articles published in the journal. The anthology covers several eras and topics in accounting history from the 15th century to the 20th century. It is divided into eight classifications: General, Methodology, Auditing, Firm/Industry Studies, Corporate Accounting, Education, Bibliographies/Biographies, and Miscellaneous.

Three articles in the "General" section emphasize the importance of accounting history to the accounting profession and to the entire economic community. The subjects of this section are that: 1) accounting history ("was") has a relationship with the present ("is") and the future ("ought"); 2) present problems may be rooted in past solutions; 3) history provides parallels from which we can obtain lessons; and 4) the study of accounting history should be useful in solving current problems.

The "Methodology" section discusses methods and techniques available to researchers and provides a taxonomy for accounting history to satisfy requirements of historical research, 1) factographic (what was), 2) explanatory (why was that so), and 3) theoretical (what follows from the study of the past). Readers are exposed to the relationship between the concept of capitalism and the emergence of bookkeeping, and to the ways accounting history research establishes historical facts.

However, the discussion falls short of giving readers clues as the circumstances in which a certain methodology is most appropriate. There is also no discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of each method. There is only a vague suggestion that a combination of methods can be used in the study of accounting history.

These first two sections seem to be intended to provide a basis for selecting from articles included in the next sections. One expects that the rest of the book will reveal a link between the past, present, and future development of accounting. On the contrary, most of the subsequent readings are confined to a description or discussion of accounting practice in specific periods. With the exception of the paper by Freear in the "Firm/Industry Studies" section, there is little provided to relate historical facts to current and future matters.

The "Auditing" section analyzes audit practices in the railway and marine insurance industries during 1840s-1860s. The matters considered include conflicts between managers, shareholders, and government commissioners in the enactment of the 1845 Companies Clause Consolidation Act and the 1867 Railways Companies Act as to who had the authority to appoint auditors for railway companies and what were appropriate auditor qualifications.

The audit requirement for marine insurance companies was established under the provisions of the 1844 Joint Stock Companies Act and under the 1845 Act mentioned above. …