Business History

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    A picture of the retail grocery industry during the Great Depression

A picture of the retail grocery industry during the Great Depression

During the 1930s, the grocery industry was in the midst of several transformations. Presaging the development of the supermarket in the 1950s, “combination” grocery stores for the first time sold both meat and dry goods such as flour, oil, and coffee. Stores were beginning to adopt the self-service format, first introduced in 1916, which allowed customers to shop without […]

How the Middle East oil pricing system emerged in the 1940s

How did the Middle East become both a new geographical base-point for petroleum transactions and the hub of the global pricing system?

Several giant Middle East oilfields were discovered between 1943 and 1947. Before that, the United States and the Gulf of Mexico region produced the bulk of the oil consumed in the world. Maintaining a global price equilibrium was essential for […]

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    Silicon Valley and America’s global ambition in the early 20th century

Silicon Valley and America’s global ambition in the early 20th century

Looking for an explanation of Silicon Valley’s high-tech? A key factor is hiding in plain sight: The significance of the Valley’s location in the 20th century United States. Not the latter 20th century of personal computers, video games, and a young Internet—that’s no secret. Rather, the early 20th century, when American imperial ambition fuelled technological advance and entrepreneurial activity.

Start-ups […]

The trade impact of the transatlantic telegraph

How do exporters gather information about overseas markets and forecast consumer demand for their products? What do they do if technology suddenly makes it possible to get access to better and more timely information? And what is the overall impact on prices, market integration and trade flows? These are challenging questions in the modern world of the internet and […]

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    How Lübeck faded, while Hamburg survived trade disruption from the Dutch

How Lübeck faded, while Hamburg survived trade disruption from the Dutch

The cities of Hamburg and Lübeck have an interwoven and eventful history. Whereas Lübeck offers an example of how dominant cities may become unattractive and decline when they end up serving the interests of a privileged few and refuse to change, Hamburg serves as a tale of how cities can reinvent themselves by changing with the times. The cities, in the […]

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    Business of war: contractors acted as the hidden wiring of the British army in the 1700s

Business of war: contractors acted as the hidden wiring of the British army in the 1700s

Today we are accustomed to hearing of defence contractors playing a vital non-combatant role in warfare. While residual suspicions of fraud and corruption are often raised in areas where public service sits uneasily alongside private business interests, we now like to think that stricter regulation ensures greater transparency, accountability, and economy. It was not always thus. In the eighteenth […]

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    In pursuit of economic security: from reciprocity to real estate

In pursuit of economic security: from reciprocity to real estate

Market liberals assume that people can look after themselves. But much of the time they cannot. Dependency on others is inevitable during motherhood, infancy and childhood, education, illness, disability, unemployment, and old age. There may be no agency, no two feet to stand on, nothing to sell, no bargaining power and limited cognitive capacity. The welfare challenge is not […]

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    Accounting played a central role in the rise of financial capitalism as we know it today

Accounting played a central role in the rise of financial capitalism as we know it today

Since the pioneer writings of Weber and Sombart, the debate on the nexus between accounting and the rise of capitalism has caused a lot of ink to flow. Literature on the subject has focused on assessing the capacity of the double-entry form to promote “rational” decision-making based on profit calculation. While the classical approach, drawing on Weber and Sombart’s […]

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    Tiffany & Co.: A nineteenth century American retailer in Paris and London

Tiffany & Co.: A nineteenth century American retailer in Paris and London

Large American international retailers have been defining global consumers’ in-store experiences for decades. Firms such as Woolworths, and concepts such as the supermarket, have changed how we use stores and what we expect from them. American innovation in retailing in the twentieth century was synonymous with the notion of “big is beautiful”.

However, the origins of American international retailing lie […]

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    Weber may have been wrong in tracing the hard work ethic to Protestantism

Weber may have been wrong in tracing the hard work ethic to Protestantism

Social scientists have always been concerned about the role of religion for society. In the early twentieth century, there were concerns about the compatibility of Catholicism and liberal democracy; in the post-Cold War period, there were concerns that international relations might be marked by a ‘Clash of Civilizations’; and today there are concerns about the compatibility of Islam and […]

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    Inequality, technological change and the skill premium throughout the ages

Inequality, technological change and the skill premium throughout the ages

How do economic growth and technological change affect inequality? The skill premium (the wage of skilled labour relative to that of unskilled labour) is one good reflection of the interrelation between growth, technological change and inequality. Existing studies show that skill-biased technological change (SBTC) contributes to the rising skill premium in modern days. But few studies have been made […]

Compassionate capitalism: Lessons from medieval Cambridge

Contemporary businesses are frequently challenged to invest the profits from their commercial successes into projects that benefit society. Yet the idea that the pursuit of international competitiveness should also promote the common good is not a new one. It began as early as the medieval period!

England in the late thirteenth century had a dynamic economy. Legal advances created a […]

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    How the Bank of France increased liquidity at no fiscal risk in the 1800’s

How the Bank of France increased liquidity at no fiscal risk in the 1800’s

The last financial crises highlight the importance of operational procedures used by central banks to cool down financial distress. To fulfill their mandate of financial stability, central banks have always featured temporary extraordinary loans to previously ineligible financial intermediaries or to the purchases of new types of assets.

Critics of those policies insist central banks lack knowledge on their counterparties […]

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    Sophisticated financial management underpinned 18th century Methodism

Sophisticated financial management underpinned 18th century Methodism

‘Are our people good economists?’ the Methodist leader John Wesley asked his assembled preachers in 1765. He continued: ‘In public and private, enlarge on economy as a branch of religion.’

His efforts to spread the Gospel throughout the British Isles and beyond in the later eighteenth century relied on resources generated and managed using a wide range of techniques. The […]

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    What Victorian households can teach us about financial decision-making

What Victorian households can teach us about financial decision-making

 

In today’s financialised societies, households are heavily exposed to financial risk. Many researchers are exploring how such households make financial decisions and manage financial risk in practice. There are also substantial efforts being made by government, regulators, charities and financial players to increase the financial literacy of households to help them make better financial decisions.

In our research, we explore […]

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    Holding Brexiteers to account by looking at economic history

Holding Brexiteers to account by looking at economic history

The House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50, on the explicit basis that this process will be irrevocable and that, at the end of the negotiations, Parliament will have a choice between a hard Brexit (leaving the Single Market and the EEA) and an ultra-hard Brexit (WTO terms, if available).

It follows that arguments about whether the […]

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    The interlock between company boards and investment banks in the early 1900’s

The interlock between company boards and investment banks in the early 1900’s

In the early twentieth century, most American public companies had a partner or director from a top-ranked investment bank on their boards. Market participants generally believed that the banker-directors of that era monitored company management on behalf of outside investors, and the privileged information the bankers obtained in their directorships enabled them to distribute their clients’ securities on more […]

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    The crucial role of apprentice­ships for the rise of Europe

The crucial role of apprentice­ships for the rise of Europe

The role of specific institutions was important in giving Europe a technological advantage well before the Industrial Revolution. This column argues that apprenticeships were crucial to Europe’s rise. Unlike in the extended families or clans in other parts of the world, apprentices in Europe’s guild systems could learn from any master. New techniques and innovations could thus spread rapidly […]

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    Early British railways in Argentina were not ‘British’ alone

Early British railways in Argentina were not ‘British’ alone

My study adopts a broadly chronological approach, addressing the growth and development of the railway network from inception in the 1850s to maturity (though not maximum extension) around the time of the First World War. The principal chapters focus on the formative period from mid-nineteenth century to the 1870s, the consolidation of a national rail network in subsequent decades and […]

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    How a shortage of coins precipitated a depression in 15th century England

How a shortage of coins precipitated a depression in 15th century England

It’s a disaster!  All the big city lenders are scaling back, or outright refusing to lend. Major players are going bust.  Overseas markets are collapsing. Regional distributors can’t get sufficient credit. Goods are piling up in warehouses. People are crying out to parliament for a major cash injection. New restrictive, even pernicious, lending practices are emerging. The economy is […]