Book Reviews: Accounting History: Some British Contributions

Article excerpt

R.H. Parker and B.S. Yamey, Eds., Accounting History: Some British Contributions (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1994, 661 pp., $72).

Reviewed by Jeremy Cripps Heidelberg College

This anthology confirms Cicero's assurance that history provides maturity because history is "the testimony of time, the lyric of truth, the embodiment of memory, the guide for life, and our audit of antiquity." Professors Parker and Yamey, in an extensive work, provide us with fascinating contributions to accounting scholarship as they help to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Pacioli's Suma de Arithmetica (1494). Successfully demonstrating the great variety of accounting history literature, the editors have brought together twenty-three stimulating papers by British academics. The material, mostly from the 1980s, combines chronology and theme, and the authors include "traditional," "new" and "mainstream" accounting historians. The collection, as entertaining as it is relevant to our present time of rapid accounting change, is highly recommended.

The Testimony of Time

From ancient Egypt to modern Japan, the authors proffer evidence of simple ideas in accountancy which have had remarkable consequences. In the process they show us accounting's arrow of time (the direction of time in which order increases). Professors Parker and Yamey arrange these changes in the accounting profession in sequence, before and after Pacioli's ennobled text. Albeit arbitrary, Accounting History adopts eight classifications: the ancient world; before double entry; double entry; corporate accounting; local government accounting; cost and management accounting; accounting theory; and accounting in context. The book invites the attention of all accounting historians and wishes we would value each others' contributions. It is a fine invitation; we should not hesitate to accept.

The Lyric of Truth

In the second century A.D., Aurelius Appianus set up many phrontides (separate entities) in the Fayum area of Egypt

p. 15

. Separate accounts were used "to measure the monetary profitability of each of these units of the estate." In his comprehensive review of these accounts, the managerial accounts of the Appianus estate, Professor Rathbone shows how they "counter the conventional picture" of rudimentary Graeco-Roman accounting

p. 16

. These monthly accounts may not record in full detail every operation and transaction which took place, "but they are a synthesis and distillation"

p. 33

which provided the Appianus family with "rigorous control of its costs of production"

p. 54

. Thus the adequacy of ancient accounting controls demonstrate they were appropriate to the available technology.

As Professor Macve shows, managerial accounts provided ancient businessmen useful subjective intelligence which was particularly appropriate to ancient patterns of economic activity

p. S4

.

The Embodiment of Memory

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, manorial accounts, from Canterbury, Winchester and Beaulieu

p. 93

are used by Professor Harvey to demonstrate that a set of written rules were generally accepted for the oral presentation and audit of periodic accounts. These charge and discharge accounts present "how mankind once coped with conditions that now seem impossibly adverse ... when paper was still unknown or costly, coins were scarce and bad, and most men were illiterate"

p. 97

. Structured phases of these accounts demonstrate "continuing developments"

page 107

in detail and layout, as our predecessor accountants approached the development of their records with open, flexible minds. Professor Postles, for example, documents the "comparing" of accounts from one manor to others

p. 121

and the employment of "incentives"

p. 148

to assess and improve the level of profit. …