Business History in Latin America: The Experience of Seven Countries

By Carlos Dávila; Rory Miller et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Business History in Colombia
Carlos Dávila

In Colombia the study of business history is in its early stages. The first works specifically dedicated to this subject, those of the North American historian, Frank Safford, appeared in the middle of the 1960s.1 However, the last two decades have seen a slow but gradual expansion of this area of research. The literature is somewhat disparate, produced by individual researchers, rather than research teams. They have come from a wide range of social science disciplines, and been located in very different faculties and university departments: management, history, economics, and sociology. Foreign scholars have made a significant contribution. This is not without merit since Colombians have been opening up a field which is quite well developed on an international level, especially in Great Britain and the United States, and which, from the beginning, has been ‘something of a no man's land, on the frontiers between economics, history and sociology’.2 The literature published since 1965 has resulted in new research themes and stimulated important questions, and it has aroused interest in different units of analysis – regional business elites, companies, entrepreneurs, families of businessmen, economic groups, and business associations – all of which had tended to receive very little attention in Colombia.

The number of important reviews of the historical literature undertaken in the last few years is evidence of the marked advance of research overall in Colombia since the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, these surveys consistently display a lack of interest in business issues, and this is evident both in the approaches of the authors and the works which they consider.3 At best

____________________
1
Frank Safford, ‘Commerce and Enterprise in Central Colombia, 1821–1870’ (PhD thesis, Columbia University, 1965), and ‘Foreign and National Enterprise in Nineteenth-Century Colombia’, Business History Review 39 (1965), 503–526. This was translated as ‘Empresarios nacionales y extranjeros en Colombia durante el siglo XIX’, Anuario Colombiano de Historia Social y de la Cultura 3 (1965), 49–69.
2
Thomas Cochran, ‘Actividad empresarial’, in Enciclopedia Internacional de las Ciencias Sociales (Madrid, 1974), IV, 212.
3
In a review of the historical literature published between 1978 and 1988, one leading commentator suggested that the study of business elites, a type of business history that was on the dividing line between social history and economics, had ‘produced some outstanding results’: Jorge Orlando Melo, ‘La literatura histórica en la última década’, Boletín Cultural y Bibliográfico 25: 15 (1988), 65. In 1989 the government-financed Misión de Ciencia y Tecnología sponsored studies on the state of development and social relevance of 23 disciplines, including history. The prominent historian, Germán Colmenares, offered an incisive, if negative, judgement on the field: ‘There are attempts at business history and from time to time monographs of industrial and commercial firms are published. These works, commissioned by the institutions themselves, possess an apologetic tone and their results are normally superficial.’ See Germán Colmenares, ‘Estado de desarrollo e inserción social de la historia en Colombia’, in Ministerio de Educación Nacional, La conformación de comunidades científicas en Colombia (Bogotá, 1990), II, 1085.

-83-

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