Business History in Latin America: The Experience of Seven Countries

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

CHAPTER SEVEN
Business History in Peru
Rory Miller

There are certain parallels between the task faced by a British business historian working on Latin America in the late twentieth century and the British businessman of the mid-nineteenth century who tried to apply the business techniques with which he was familiar in his home economy to a quite different environment. Both run the danger of overestimating the value of their own approach and imposing an alien agenda on a society and economy they only partially understand. It is worth stating at the outset, therefore, that there are many problems with the practice of business history in the United Kingdom. The field was founded on the company history, the classic example of which was Charles Wilson's two-volume history of Unilever.1 Since 1954, when this was published, there has been a plethora of studies of individual companies in Britain, large and small, central and insignificant. The quality, of course, has been uneven, ranging from superficial and eulogistic narratives produced for a centenary or similar anniversary to sophisticated treatments which locate the company's history within a much broader set of problems and which demonstrate the theoretical and comparative awareness and technical expertise which characterise good historical writing. Nevertheless, the dominance of the company history or case study approach to business history, dictated in part by the constraints of finance and time, has attracted much criticism from leaders in the field in Britain, though it is not without some prominent defenders.2

Company history is not the same as business history, although it forms an important component of it. Nor is entrepreneurial history the same as business history, though many of the early studies in business history in Britain took this form. Unfortunately in Latin America the Spanish term

____________________
1
Charles Wilson, The History of Unilever: a study in economic growth and social change (2 vols, London, 1954).
2
Leslie Hannah, ‘New Issues in British Business History’, Business History Review 57 (1983), 165–74; Donald Coleman, ‘The Uses and Abuses of Business History’, Business History 29 (1987), 141–56; Stephen Nicholas, ‘Locational Choice, Performance, and the Growth of British Multinational Firms’, Business History 31 (1989), 122–41. For a defence, see Terry Gourvish, ‘Business History: in defence of the empirical approach?’, Accounting, Business and Financial History 5 (1995), 3–16.

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