Published by EH.Net (September 2017)

Paolo Di Martino, Andrew Popp and Peter Scott, editors, People, Places and Business Cultures: Essays in Honour of Francesca Carnevali. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2017. xiv + 266 pp. £20 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-78327-212-9.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Chris Corker, York Management School, University of York.

Edited by Paolo Di Martino (University of Birmingham), Andrew Popp (University of Liverpool) and Peter Scott (University of Reading), this volume sets out to both pay tribute to and advance the legacy of the late Francesca Carnevali by exploring and advancing the multitude of historical and methodological investigations undertaken by their honoree. At its core is a rewarding contrast between the need for unity between different fields of historical study and allied subjects in law, politics, economics and others, while emphasizing the value of exploring difference — different ways of observing, exploring and understanding the past and the value of challenging orthodox approaches and forging new paths. As the reader, you get a sense of admiration for the work of Carnevali in each chapter, with each of the authors tackling the implications of this contrast in their own way.

The book is split into two sections, the first exploring case studies which seek to explain business practices in their historical context, the second examining emerging approaches to economic history. The first section presents five empirical case studies which seek to continue the work of Carnevali in a number of business and economic history themes, including industrial districts, political economy and finance, the post-1870s British “decline,” marketing and consumption in interwar Britain, and the development and distribution of household goods in the Victorian and Edwardian period. In the first of these chapters, Andrew Popp examines “The Staging of Business Life” through a case study of Liverpool. This is followed by two chapters on finance, the first from Alberto Rinaldi and Anna Spadavecchia on political economy issues related to the financing of Italian small businesses in the second half of the twentieth century, the second a comparative evaluation of banks and business finance in Britain before 1914 from Leslie Hannah. The fourth chapter in this section, from Peter Scott and James T. Walker, considers “Large-Scale Retailing, Mass-Market Strategies and the Blurring of Class Demarcations in Interwar Britain,” and the section concludes with a case study of the marketing of household goods in England between 1851 and 1914 from Lucy Newton, continuing a project initially commenced with Carnevali.

In the opening chapter of the second section, which focuses on methodological issues and the interactions between different branches of history, Matthew Hilton considers what a 2017 edition of Twentieth Century Britain: Economic, Cultural and Social Change, edited by Carnevali and Julie-Marie Strange and initially published in 2007, would look like. The following chapter from Kenneth Lipartito, titled “From Social Capital to Social Assemblage,” examines the possibility of bringing elements of society and culture back into economic theory and history. In the third chapter, Chris Wickham’s examination of economic theory and microhistory seeks to advance the use of this approach to question the indivisibility of economic systems in economic history, and finally Andrea Colli’s chapter, “Europe’s Difference and Comparative History: Searching for European Capitalism,” explores “varieties of capitalism” and questions if there is a truly European model for the corporation or if regional variations prevail.

Following these rich and robust chapters, the editors synthesize three core areas of future research and investigation, which tie together the main aspects of Carnevali ‘s work and the underlying themes of the book. Firstly, they advance “exploring economic history as if people matter,” moving away from black-box inspired economic models and theories and towards embracing the somewhat messy and irrational actions of people as economic actors. Secondly, they emphasize the need for “bottom-up (rather than top-down) methodologies,” embracing microhistorical approaches and valuing history produced from immersion in archival sources. This point also advances the need to minutely reconstruct the actions of key players and institutions in understanding how “rules of the game” emerged in smaller units of analysis. Finally, the editors embrace a far-reaching conclusion regarding the need for a “more eclectic, expansive approach to modelling and explaining historical phenomena.” Here they seek to expand the toolbox used by economic historians to embrace, where suitable, elements of sociology, psychology, marketing, political economy and other social sciences into a more inter- or multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the past.

This book is a fitting tribute to a prolific writer who enlightened several aspects of business, economic and social history in a manner which questioned common logic, set future research agendas and showed one potential way forward for that field of study. Each of the authors involved respects this approach and develops it in their own way, taking the work of Carnevali forward in several directions, ultimately drawing together three potential research directions. The challenge for the future is continuing this path-breaking approach, a fact the editors recognize when they state: “If this volume can encourage new scholars to cast their theoretical and methodological nets more widely, it will indeed have succeeded in its aim of honouring Francesca’s work and legacy” (p. 11).

Overall, the book sets a solid research agenda which will inspire future researchers, and should be essential reading for doctoral students and early career researchers for years to come.

Chris Corker is Lecturer in Management at the York Management School, University of York. His Ph.D. work on the Sheffield Armaments Industry between 1900 and 1930 recently won the 2017 Coleman Prize awarded by the Association of Business Historians for excellence in new business history research.

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