Accounting in History

By Walker, Stephen P. | Accounting Historians Journal, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Accounting in History


Walker, Stephen P., Accounting Historians Journal


Abstract

Recent studies of publication patterns in accounting history portray a myopic and introspective discipline. Analyses reveal the production and dissemination of accounting history knowledge which focus predominantly on Anglo-American settings and the age of modernity. Limited opportunities exist for contributions from scholars working in languages other than English. Many of the practitioners of accounting history are also shown to be substantially disconnected from the wider community of historians. It is argued in the current paper that interdisciplinary history has the potential to enhance theoretical and methodological creativity and greater inclusivity in the accounting history academy. A practical requirement for this venture is the identification of points of connectedness between accounting and other historians. An analysis of publications with accounting content in Historical Abstracts reveals increasing interest among historians in the history of accounting. This substantial literature incorporates sites largely unfamiliar to accounting historians, such as Eastern and Central Europe and Central and South America. Historians also communicate their findings on accounting in a variety of languages. Subjects particularly deserving of interdisciplinary research engaging accounting and other historians include accounting in agricultural economies, the institutions of pre-industrial rural societies and diverse systems of government.

INTRODUCTION

The turn of the 21st century has witnessed the appearance of a number of papers reflecting on the flourishing state of accounting history and impediments to its future progress. The empirical base for these commentaries is the analysis of publication outputs. While a cynical observer might comprehend this tendency to introspection as indicative of intellectual exhaustion in a hitherto vibrant field, a number of important findings have emerged from such studies which pose challenges to the accounting history community. In particular, the findings of recent papers on publishing patterns illustrate the need for accounting historians to practice greater inclusivity.

Based on an admittedly limited population of English language papers appearing from 1996 to 1999 in the specialist accounting history journals, Carnegie and Potter concluded that their analysis indicates "the existence of a relatively insular international accounting history research community dominated by a small number of institutions and authors" [2000]. Carnegie and Potter contended that accounting history authors seldom engage in cross-border collaborative research and display a limited tendency to venture beyond core themes and the modern period. A subsequent study of the sex distribution of authors in the same journals revealed, unsurprisingly, that authorship and editorial board membership in accounting history is male-dominated [Carnegie et al, 2003]. Edwards' [2004] broader review of the accounting history literature identified concerns about areas of fading interest, publication media and the dissemination of research findings. Fleischman and Radcliffe's celebration of the advance of accounting history during 'the roaring nineties' is tempered by fears of its quiet demise in the United States [2005].

In his study of the contents of the first ten volumes of Accounting Business & Financial History Anderson [2002] identified a predominance of UK, US and Australian authors and subjects, a concentration on the 19th and 20th centuries and a dearth of citations by accounting historians to published material outside of accounting and business. Anderson [2002] concluded that "ABFH authors have relied upon a very narrow literature, with almost 50 per cent of all citations deriving from ten leading accounting and accounting/business history journals". Such findings are confirmatory of Parker's observation almost a decade earlier [1993] that "accounting history is increasingly dominated by writers in English discussing private-sector accounting in English-speaking countries of the 19th and 20th centuries". …

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