Monthly Archives: April 2012

How did the antipope affect the distance to school?

Medieval Universities, Legal Institutions, and the Commercial Revolution

By Davide Cantoni ( and Noam Yuchtman (



We present new data documenting medieval Europe’s “Commercial Revolution” using information on the establishment of markets in Germany. We use these data to test whether medieval universities played a causal role in expanding economic activity, examining the foundation of Germany’s first universities after 1386 following the Papal Schism. We find that the trend rate of market establishment breaks upward in 1386 and that this break is greatest where the distance to a university shrank most. There is no differential pre-1386 trend associated with the reduction in distance to a university, and there is no break in trend in 1386 where university proximity did not change. These results are not affected by excluding cities close to universities or cities belonging to territories that included universities. Universities provided training in newly-rediscovered Roman and Canon law; students with legal training served in positions that reduced the uncertainty of trade in medieval Europe. We argue that training in the law, and the consequent development of legal and administrative institutions, was an important channel linking universities and greater economic activity.

Review by Chris Colvin

The “distance to” literature, as I like to call it, has just had an exciting new addition, from Davide Cantoni (University of Munich) and Noam Yuchtman (Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley). As UK readers will know all too well, our tabloid press is quite obsessed with stories about the distance to school (sometimes even more than house prices). In their new working paper (circulated by NEP-HIS on 2012-04-17), Cantoni and Yuchtman apply this English obsession to explain something altogether different; they use the distance to new post-Schism universities as an indicator of human capital in what may well be a 14th-century natural experiment.

Recent contributions to the “distance to” literature include Sascha Becker and Ludger Woessmann’s 2009 QJE article, which uses distance to Wittenberg as an instrument for Protestantism, Jeremiah Dittmar’s 2011 QJE article, which uses distance to Mainz as an instrument for the adoption of the printing press, and, in an interesting combination of the two, Jared Rubin’s working paper, which uses distance from Mainz as an instrument for the spread of Protestantism through the printing press.

Whilst these all focussed on questions involving the 16th-century Reformation, Cantoni and Yuchtman look at a much earlier Christian division: the 14th-century Papal, or Western, Schism that led to the Avignon-based Antipopes. Europe’s German areas had no universities before this schism. German states largely chose to follow the Roman pope, as a result of which German academics and students could no longer get to school; German academics found themselves in the antipope’s realms and were exiled. Returning home, they establish their own schools in places like Erfust, Heidelberg and Cologne.

Antipope Clement VII: Cantoni and Yuchtman think he may have helped cause the Rise of the West

Cantoni and Yuchtman argue that this influx-of-the-educated led to a proliferation of legal education, which in turn facilitated economic exchange and helped lead to the Commercial Revolution and the Rise of the West. Their core “distance to” instrument for education is defined as the change in distance between a market and its closest university following the establishment of a new German university. Markets in the west of the German parts of the Holy Roman Empire saw a larger reduction in this distance-to-school measure than in the east, and the interaction of the timing of universities’ arrival and this change in distance correlates nicely with the founding of organised markets.

As with all papers involving natural experiments of history, the authors devote considerable time convincing readers that the arrival of new universities was truly an exogenous event, that these universities would not have been established were it not for the Papal Schism. One of the ways they do this is with “placebo regressions” involving parts of Europe affected by the Schism, but which saw no change in the trend in university establishment, such as England. However, by their own admission, the most important part of English legal education at the time took place in London, at the Inns of Court, rather than at Oxbridge, which were basically glorified seminaries for the rich; perhaps they could consider the Inns as a de facto university in their next version of the paper. Another placebo regression I would like to see would involve ancient universities (like Northampton, Lucca and Würzburg) that were short-lived: do their results still hold if these failed universities are included?

Unfortunately, Cantoni and Yuchtman decided to distribute their working paper using the NBER, which means it is behind the Great Academic Firewall; only individuals clicking on the paper from within a university network can download it for free. Fortunately, Yuchtman has also uploaded a copy on his personal webpage. I think it is high time for the NBER to stop charging punters to access its papers; members should vote with their feet and distribute their work-in-progress in alternative ways!

Linking History and Management Discourse: Epistemology and Method

Seizing the Opportunity: Towards a Historiography of Information Systems

Nathalie Mitev ( and François-Xavier de Vaujany (

Abstract: Historical perspectives are only timidly entering the world of IS research compared to historical research in management or organization studies. If major IS outlets have already published history-oriented papers, the number of historical papers – although increasing – remains low. We carried out a thematic analysis of all papers on History and IS published between 1972 and 2009 indexed on ABI and papers indexed in Google ScholarTM for the same period. We used a typology developed by theorists Usdiken and Kieser (2004) who classify historical organisation research into supplementarist, integrationist and reorientationist approaches. We outline their links with the epistemological stances well known in IS research, positivism, interpretivism and critical research; we then focus on their differences and historiographical characteristics. We found that most IS History papers are supplementarist descriptive case studies with limited uses of History. This paper then suggests that IS research could benefit from adopting integrationist and reorientationist historical perspectives and we offer some examples to illustrate how that would contribute to enriching, extending and challenging existing theories.


The Silence of the Archive: Post-Colonialism and the Practice of Historical Reconstruction from Archival Evidence

by Stephanie Decker (

Abstract: History as a discipline has been accused of being a-theoretical. For business historians working at business schools, however, the issue of methodology looms larger, as it is hard to make contributions to social science debates without explicating one’s disciplinary methodology. This paper seeks to outline an important aspect of historical methodology, which is data collection from archives. In this area, postcolonialism has made significant methodological contributions not just for non-Western history, as it has emphasized the importance of considering how archives were created, and how one can legitimately use them despite their limitations.


Review by Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo

In his blog post entitled Theory and Historians, Andrew Smith points to a recent article in The Economist on the role of conceptual frameworks in history. Smith notes how some people are ‘…fundamentally hostile to the application of social theory to the craft of history’ and the comments to his post point to an interesting debate along these lines within the pages of the Economic History of Developing Regions journal.

The papers reviewed in this blog entry dig deeper into this issue while, at the same time, illustrate a trend concern on how to strengthen the links between historians and management scholars. Both these papers were circulated by NEP-HIS on 2012-03-21. Other examples include a similar paper by Mitev & de Vaujany on history and management information systems, Jari Eloranta’s Quantitative methods in business history: An impossible equation?, Amedeo Lepore’s New research methods of business history as well as Geoff Jones’ and Walter Friedman’s editorial in the Business History Review A Time for Debate. Smith, Jones & Friedman, the authors below as well as myself, sit within a social sciences faculty and more to the point, most are employed by a business school. Thus, explaining and even justifying our research to management scholars has not only conceptual implications but also practical ones as such as dealing with the issue of history journals having lower citation impact scores; and even more mundane, issues about promotion and allocation of research budgets.

Nathalie Mitev

Coming from an information systems background, the paper by Mitev and De Vaujany offers an interesting epistemological schema to explore the premise that ‘ and organization studies have experience a move towards History’ while ‘[s]earching for theoretical and methodological benefits…’. Their concern is how to deal with ‘research [which] tries to include historical variability but still tends towards deterministic and universalist explanations.’ Based on the much celebrated framework by Behlül Üsdiken & Alfred Kieser’s History in Organisation Studies, Mitev and De Vaujany set on relating epistemological viewpoints of positivism, iterpretativism and cricial theory to corresponding historiographical methods.

François-Xavier de Vaujany

First there are supplementarist approaches where historical ‘context’ is simply added as a complement to common positivist approaches, still focusing on variables but with a longer time span. Examples of supplementarist, they say, are to be found in new institutionalism studies, which have become more ‘historical’ by studying a smaller number of variables over a longer period. But these, they say, lack the rich contextual evidence of case studies. Secondly, one finds integrationists or a full consideration of History with new or stronger links between organisation studies and the humanities (including history, literary theory and philosophy). Examples, they say, include most of the work around business history as ‘[b]usiness historians have progressed to realise the potential of their work to inform contemporary managerial decision-making.’ Thirdly, there are the reorientationistor post-positivist studies, which examine and reposition dominant discourses (such as progress or efficiency) and produces a criticism and renewal of organization theory itself, on the basis of history. Management history and history of management thought are said to be representatives. However,they add, here the logic of economic efficiency has superimposed onto the narrative of historians, that is, other potential avenues such as gender, culture and ethics have been disregarded in favour of a purely economicist narrative.

Mitev and De Vaujany then engage in very interesting an epistemological discussion of the three approaches and how can historical studies relate and/or inform different areas of management discourse. This is worth read as it is indeed, food for thought. I will thus make no attempt to summarise it. Nevertheless, the paper does progress while trying to find the prevalence of each of the three named approaches within research in information systems (IS). This through a content analysis of peer-reviewed journal articles which were identified by combining the ABI bibliographic database and Google Scholar:

The journals chosen had information systems as their primary focus as opposed to management science, computer science or information science. We selected journals whose principal readership is intended for those involved in the IS field… We do not claim that the survey is exhaustive; nor do we assume that a more comprehensive survey (e.g. including conference proceedings or using other databases) would deliver different results. The analysis involved the identification of all research papers in ABI that might broadly be defined as historical perspective on information systems. Using a further search on Google Scholar, we double checked on primary analysis in order to confirm general tendencies and identify complementary references, used in our discussion. Therefore, in our survey of relevant literature our intention is to focus on material that is published in outlets specifically targeted as IS.

At this point I grew a bit dissapointed by the paper by Mitev and De Vaujany. Ultimately only 64 papers were identified. For me, these represented the use of history as a method within the IS field. This should by no means be disregarded (more below). It is an interesting excerise in itself. But I thought that could have considered journals where historians of computing publish. I mean outlets such as the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing where Campbell-Kelly, Haigh and Heide (all of these are authors that Mitev and De Vaujany cite in their paper) regularly publish. I also felt more could be done about method and methodology in history.

Stephanie Decker – Aston University

Here is where the paper by Decker
fits in nicely. I had the fortune of hearing her present it at the M6 Business History Workshopat Coventry University. In comparison with Mitev and De Vaujany, Decker largely side steps epistemological issues to tackle head on how to explain what historians do in the archives and the issues that one faces in confronting surviving records of a particular organisation or event. This explanation is particularly poignant as she chooses to illustrate through her own work in Africa.

‘Triangulation’ and dealing with the issue of selection is part and parcel of most readers of this blog. I guess it does not need further explanation. But to be fair, Decker does present the topic in a new light and it is worth even for the most experience researcher to review her arguments and refresh some of the issues. As often things we take for granted are not examined in sufficient detail.

But the above does suggest there is a group of people who are seriously thinking how best to make history and management studies interact. Whether this should also translate into active presence in management journals and broad interest, peer-reviewed outlets is also part of the question. I am one of those who firmly believe that we as business historians have a serious contribution to make to the present conversation in management studies. As has been noted elsewhere by Ludovic Cailluet:

For those of us business historians who work in business schools/management departments, to publish in management journals is very important. One solution is to find “mainstream” or “pure players” co-authors who are interested in your data, and skills and who could help you with the format and describe methodology in a way that would answer the demands of management journals. Mixed methods (quanti/quali) are becoming very trendy lately in the management field. There is an opportunity.

Indeed, Business Historyhas initiated a series of special issues that offer social scientists an opportunity to explain how their work gels with the

Mustafa Özbilgin – editor of the British Journal of Management

discipline. But the opposite is not necessarily true. There is little or no representation of business historians in mainstream journals (hence the relevance of the paper by Mitev and De Vaujany above). Mustafa Özbilgin, general editor of the British Journal of Management, concurs:

You are right in spotting that business history have been rather under represented in the journal. There are a number of reasons for this. First business historians typically do not offer review service to the BJM nor do they typically submit papers. I don’t know the reasons for this. You may wish to seek explanations also within the business history community. BJM publishes only empirical pieces which draws on robust data, both of which are specific disciplinary constructs I am aware.

Dissecting epistemology and method of history is thus interesting and relevant for those aiming to build bridges outside our specialist area.

The History of Media Entrepreneurs

Who Are the Entrepreneurs: The Elite or Everyman?

By Heather Haveman (University of California, Berkeley), Jacob Habinek (University of California, Berkeley), and Leo A. Goodman (University of California, Berkeley)



We trace the social positions of the men and women who found new enterprises from the earliest years of one industry’s history to a time when the industry was well established. Sociological theory suggests two opposing hypotheses. First, pioneering entrepreneurs are socially prominent individuals from fields adjacent to the new industry and later entrepreneurs are from an increasingly broad swath of society. Second, the earliest entrepreneurs come from the social periphery while later entrepreneurs include more industry insiders and members of the social elite. To test these hypotheses, we study the magazine industry in America over the first 120 years of its history, from 1741 to 1860. We find that magazine publishing was originally restricted to industry insiders, elite professionals, and the highly educated, but by the time the industry became well established, most founders came from outside publishing and more were of middling stature – mostly small-town doctors and clergy without college degrees. We also find that magazines founded by industry insiders remained concentrated in the three biggest cities, while magazines founded by outsiders became geographically dispersed. Finally, we find that entrepreneurship evolved from the pursuit of a lone individual to a more organizationally-sponsored activity; this reflects the modernization of America during this time period. Our analysis demonstrates the importance of grounding studies of entrepreneurship in historical context. Our analysis of this “old” new media industry also offers hints about how the “new” new media industries are likely to evolve.

Review by Beatriz Rodriguez-Satizabal

The paper was distributed by NEP-HIS on March 28, 2012. The study of entrepreneurship is nowadays a hot

Heather Haveman

topic among historians, sociologists, and economists. The title of this working paper by Heather Haverman, Jacob Habinek, and Leo A. Goodman should capture the attention of all these academics and particularly historian interested in the history of entrepreneurship.

Jacob Habinek

The resurgence of the entrepreneur as an important figure in the economic theory, after have been neglected for many years (when compared to say, the strategies of multinationals). This resurgence has been marked in the last three decades by an increase number of biographies of successful entrepreneurs, the creation of research projects such as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and the recent proliferation of public policies towards financing entrepreneurs in order to promote economic development.

Leo A. Goodman

Dealing with the issue of the social background of the entrepreneurs has been an essential part of the discussion of who are they, what are their characteristics, and why they exist. In general, researchers have found that the background varies across countries, cultures, and industries, and, more importantly, being a successful entrepreneur offers a chance to increase social mobility.

Guided by the perception that recent research has not incorporated a historical perspective that assumes changes across time and space in the industry where the entrepreneurs are performing its activities, Haverman et al. goal is to answer to the question: how the social positions of entrepreneurs vary across the path of industry development? Basically, their interest is to know if there are any differences between the entrepreneurs enter early in the industry’s history and those appearing in its development later on. This represents the challenge of the paper; it is calling the attention over the relationship between the entrepreneur and the industry. In other words, the entrepreneur cannot be study without a full understanding of its industry, its dynamics and the causes that result in changes within it. Is returning to the basic approaches to entrepreneurship lead by J. Schumpeter, W. Sombart, and more recently, Mark Casson. It also offers a way to deal with this approach using quantitative analysis.

Taking as case study the American magazine industry between 1741, when the first magazines appeared, and 1860, the eve of the Civil War, the authors centred their attention on the social positions of the entrepreneurs (occupation, education, location) in two periods of the industry: 1741 to 1800 during which time American magazines were few in number, poorly understood, and small, and 1841 to 1860, when American magazines were common, generally accepted means of communication, and many reached mass audiences. The mass media industry is becoming a subject of interest both as a unit of analysis and a source (e.g. Richard John’s paper in the last number of Enterprise & Society),but there is still a lack of a specific definition of what is an entrepreneur in the media mass industry, which are the variables that define it; moreover, when today there is a boom of media innovators and journalists. Understanding that the scope of the study was limited by the information available is important to mention that the use of social positions as a starting point is not a revolutionary idea and the authors could enrich the paper by including other variables related with the social and political networks, the economic background, and, why not, the innovations they brought to the industry.

One of the first publications by Andrew Bradford dating to 1741.

Using a wide variety of sources that includes the magazines, dictionaries of biography, and books on the history of publishing, Haverman et al. gathered a sample of the founders of 148 magazines for the first period and 150 for the last one. To assess their hypothesis that in the early years of an industry the entrepreneurs are part of the elite and it changes when the industry is mature, the authors follow three methods: bivariate analysis, multivariate analysis, and log-linear analysis, the last being the one where the authors claim the novelty for future entrepreneurship studies that are willing to involve a historical perspective. As a result, Haverman et al. conclude that the entrepreneurs during the early years of the magazine industry where professionals (mostly lawyers), highly educated, members of the publishing trades, and mainly located in the cities known for being the first publishing centres (New York, Boston, Philadelphia). After the early years, this pattern changed. The audience for magazines increase, the production and distribution technologies were cheaper, and the copyright law developed making space for a new wave of entrepreneurs from different social backgrounds, ages, and located across the country.

This ambitious working paper brings a discussion on how to relate the history of entrepreneurship (the people) with the history of the industry (firms and aggregate supply). Relating the sociological characteristics of the entrepreneurs with the maturity of the industry seems to be a good idea, but the risk is that in the way of catching the individual characteristics of the links with the industry can be omitted.