Academic journal article Accounting Historians Journal

"The Roaring Nineties": A Comment on the State of Accounting History in the United States

Academic journal article Accounting Historians Journal

"The Roaring Nineties": A Comment on the State of Accounting History in the United States

Article excerpt

Abstract: This comment on a recent contribution by Fleischman and Radcliffe [2005], entitled "The Roaring Nineties: Accounting History Comes of Age," specifically deals with their cautionary comments on the general condition of accounting history research in the U.S. around the close of that decade. The author contends that public interest in accounting's past is currently strong, especially following the recent corporate scandals and audit failures in the U.S., and points out that accounting history research projects which are of relevance to policy makers and regulators are likely to be both funded and, accordingly, recognized.

Dick Fleischman and Vaughan Radcliffe have rendered a timely, interesting, and well-written account of an action-packed decade in accounting history research and publication which has been captured by the colorful title "The Roaring Nineties: Accounting History Comes of Age" [Fleischman and Radcliffe, 2005]. Readers of this contribution gain a strong sense that accounting history, as a field of scholarly endeavor, is more popular than ever before. Indeed, the authors stated, "it was only in the last decade of the 20th century that a substantial expansion and maturation of its research agenda occurred" [Fleischman and Radcliffe, 2005, p. 61; see also, Walker, 2005]. The underlying level of enthusiasm in the field, as is manifest within the article itself, is equally evident in recognizing the fact that this contribution appeared in the Accounting Historians Journal within five years after the end of "the roaring nineties" (1991 to 2000).

Notwithstanding the generally positive tone described above, the final section of the article, entitled "concluding remarks and a cautionary word," refers to an ominous cloud on the horizon of accounting history research and publication in the U.S. [Fleischman and Radcliffe, 2005, pp. 82-86]. Indeed, the authors argued that "the field's prospects in the U.S. seem to be diverging from the promising conditions seen in much of the rest of the world" [p. 83]. According to Fleischman and Radcliffe [2005, p. 84], "conditions in the U.S. are significant for researchers worldwide, not only because history is threatened in one jurisdiction but because that jurisdiction has proved to be an influential model in both the practice and study of accounting."

Without desiring to re-examine the difficulties being faced in the U.S. by accounting history, as discussed by Fleischman and Radcliffe, it is useful to summarize the recent adverse indications. These include the apparent exclusion of accounting history from major U.S. journals; the failure to renew the professoriate in this field; the disinclination of accounting departments to provide doctoral training in the field; and the declining U.S. membership of the U.S.-based Academy of Accounting Historians. (1) In their final sentence, Fleischman and Radcliffe [2005, p. 86] almost worryingly stated a hope that the roaring nineties "will not also be regarded as ending with the quiet but discernable death of accounting history in the U.S." (emphasis added). In sharing this hope and also in supporting the authors' portrayal of accounting history in a broader international context, the following brief comments are made in the interest of furthering discussion and debate on the trends identified.

Is interest in accounting history at or near death in the U.S.? Looking in from the outside, and acknowledging the disadvantages this external insight may provide, the present answer is almost certainly a negative one. Why is this so? It is because never before in the U.S. has there been such a strong public focus on accounting and audit from the early 2000s when "a raft of corporate scandals highlighted how auditors failed to blow the whistle on financial reporting frauds, such as Enron, WorldCom and HealthSouth" [Parker, 2005b, p. 12], and which brought the dramatic demise of Arthur Andersen. Should any readers wish to find out more about such happenings, venture to a cinema complex near you and watch the movie Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or read one or more of the almost endless array of books on such major corporate collapses and the related accounting and audit debacles. …

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