Academic journal article Accounting Historians Journal

The R.J. Chambers Collection: An "Archivist's" Revelations of 20th Century Accounting Thought and Practice

Academic journal article Accounting Historians Journal

The R.J. Chambers Collection: An "Archivist's" Revelations of 20th Century Accounting Thought and Practice

Article excerpt

Abstract: A major, unique accounting archival source, the R.J. Chambers Collection comprises both hard copy and, utilizing cutting-edge search technology, internet accessible materials. From his academic beginnings, Chambers was an orderly person, an archivist of the extensive and varied evidence that underpinned his proposals for accounting reform.

Opening research areas for accounting biography, the development of accounting thought, the history of accounting institutions, prosopography, public sector accounting history, and comparative international accounting history are foremost amongst the myriad justifications for seeking to unravel the accounting history "lodes" in archives such as the Goldberg, Chambers, and Briloff Collections [Potter, 2003]. The archiving of the meticulously kept Chambers papers from 1947-1999 provides an opportunity for unfolding the background to events previously withheld from accounting history scholars. Professional episodes in relation to inflation accounting, standard setting, proposals to reform accounting education, and the like that appeared prima facie to be worth investigating are now open to scrutiny from a different angle, with a different type of evidence available in this Collection. This Collection provides a high degree of archival provenance. In particular, it represents an orderly retention of past documentation of what Chambers wrote, and perhaps uniquely for accounting historians, received; thus, providing an extensive window from which to examine the disorderly present environment of acounting.


Raymond John Chambers (1917-1999) has been described by his 20th century peers as an "accounting pioneer" [Moonitz, 1982], an "intellectual giant of 20th century accounting thought" [Barton, 1982; Mathews, 1982; Staubus, 2003], truly a "Renaissance man." (1) He was selected by Edwards [1994] as one of the "twentieth century accounting thinkers;" by Colasse [2005] as one of "les grands auteurs en comptabilite; and, at the time of his admission, he was the only non-North American to be inducted into the Accounting Hall of Fame of Ohio State University. He achieved many other awards and recognitions as listed in Chambers' Aide Memoire, which appeared in Vol. 6 of his collected works, reproduced in Chambers and Dean [2000a]. As Foundation Professor of Accounting (1960-1982) at The University of Sydney, Chambers founded and built what was to be known internationally as the Sydney school of accounting thought [Wells, 1976; AAA, 1977]. Together with Professor Louis Goldberg (University of Melbourne), Professor Russell Mathews (Australian National University), and other contemporaries, such as Professor Reg Gynther (University of Queensland) and Professor Ken Wright (University of Adelaide), Chambers pioneered scholarship in the teaching, learning, and research of accounting in Australian universities [Barton, 1982].

Chambers is probably best known for his proposed system of accounting, Continuously Contemporary Accounting (CoCoA), a summary of which is provided by Clarke and Dean [1996; Chatfield and Vangermeersch, 1996, pp. 109-111]. The belief in his system and academic tolerance may be gleaned from this quote from a previously unreported correspondence: "CoCoA [like airplanes, etc] will rest on its functional superiority; if not today, then tomorrow, for all change takes time to be assimilated" [R.J. Chambers Collection, SUA P202, Item # 6258, June, 19, 1981].

To put some balance into this background, Chambers was certainly not without his critics. He had many debates in the literature with contemporaries such as Moonitz [1982], Ijiri [1967, 1982], Littleton [1953], Mattessich [1964, 1995, 2005], Staubus [1961], and Edwards and Bell [1961]. They gave "as good as they received" from him. A recent issue of Accounting Education contained a forum on Chambers' ideas on education where again critics and supporters discussed those ideas. …

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