Chinese Business History: Interpretive Trends and Priorities for the Future

By Robert Gardella; Jane K. Leonard et al. | Go to book overview

KEITH L. BRYANT, JR.


Response to Daniel Nelson's "Western Business History: Experience and Comparative Perspectives"

Professor Daniel Nelson's article [see pp. 151-65] presents an overview of the evolution of business history in the United States. He notes at the outset that business historians have emphasized the limitations of traditional historical scholarship; have blurred the former boundaries between business, labor, and economic history and the history of technology; and have demonstrated the commonalities of market economies characterized by diverse economic activities. Business history, he argues, reminds us of the power of economics and technology over culture. I would not go that far, a point to which I shall return.

The early sections of the article review the evolution of business history from the emergence of the "robber baron" school and the progressive historians to the creation of the business history group at Harvard University after 1927. The scholarly output from N.S.B. Gras and his colleagues was thoroughly researched and highly descriptive. It provided no framework by which the growth of capitalism in the United States could be interpreted. By the 1930s, Allan Nevins and his army of researchers had challenged the robber-baron school and had created the "captains of industry" perspective. Ironically, both the debunkers and the defenders of the industrial giants emphasized the personalities of a few key individuals. They were not interested in the structure of enterprise or how firms actually functioned. This debate failed to advance

____________________
From a paper presented at the workshop on Scholarly Research on Chinese Business History: Interpretative Trends and Priorities for the Future, University of Akron, October 27-29, 1995.
Keith L. Bryant, Jr., is on the faculty of the University of Akron, Department of History.

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