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Historical Perspectives on Entrepreneurship and Public Policy

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy

Guest Editor:
Michael J. Douma, Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business

Rationale for the special issue:
1.    Promote historical understanding of entrepreneurship.
2.    Recognize the impact of entrepreneurs on historical change.
3.    Reconceptualize historians as entrepreneurs.
4.    Consider ways to add entrepreneurial activity to the syllabus and curriculum of business and economic history.

Josef Schumpeter lamented that historians generally believe that “all that is needed to explain a given historical development is to indicate conditioning or causal factors.” (Schumpeter, 1947). Schumpeter countered that the “creative response” that actors have to certain conditions and factors is less predictable. Indeed, historians can never know all of the conditions or factors contributing to change. We know that cause and effect can never been seen, but that it must be intuited from the evidence. By recognizing the creative responses of individual actors in history we can we see the practical failures of determinism in trying to explain the past. That is to say, the history of entrepreneurship seems to push back against the approach of aggregation, of materialist and determinist explanations of change, and even against institutionalism.

But what is the impact of the study of entrepreneurship in historical research today? While entrepreneurs frequently appear in works of economic and business history, is the entrepreneur otherwise missing from standard accounts of history? It seems, for example, that histories of national economy seldom place the entrepreneur in a central place. A notable exception to this is Gunderson’s history of the United States with entrepreneurs placed front and center. (Gunderson 1989). Mark Casson’s work also studies the history of entrepreneurs directly, showing their impact on society. (Casson 2013). Critically, Casson pulls the concept of the entrepreneur back into pre-modern history, well before the rise of capitalism, industrialization, the managerial revolution and other topics that receive the bulk of the interest in business history. Historians of entrepreneurship may find sympathy with cultural or idea-based explanations for historical change, such as those presented by Deirdre McCloskey. (McCloskey, 2006, 2010, 2015)

Direct historical studies of entrepreneurship bloomed in the 1970s, when the discipline of business history had a greater presence in American history departments. Some of the study programs launched in that earlier era attempted to measure the amount of entrepreneurship in a given place or time, or assess the impact of entrepreneurs in large patterns of economic change.  (Payne, 1974).  A notable example of a well-rounded research project in this direction is Paul Wilkens’ comparative historical study of entrepreneurship investigates the conditions influencing the emergence of entrepreneurship, without neglecting non-economic psychological and cultural factors.  (Wilken, 1979)  In recent decades, the Industrial Revolution has remained a subject of concern for historians writing about entrepreneurship, and many works in this field explicitly link entrepreneurship with economic growth, almost as if you cannot have one without the other.  (Landes, Mokyr, Baumol, 2012; Hansen 2009). 

Historians often look to general factors to explain cause and effect. An economy grew because of a certain policy, wealth came from the discovery of a certain natural resource, a nation expanded because it developed a new, more efficient technology. In historical accounts, these factors are often treated as exogenous shocks that explain change. Historians of entrepreneurship might recognize that change can come from inside a culture, and that it might be attributed to one person, or just a small number of people. But the historical study of entrepreneurs may be handicapped because it resembles too much of the old-fashioned “history of great men.”  The social and cultural turn over the past forty years has led to a situation where historical change must be interpreted as the result of many and myriad large forces, not individual decision-making.  The history of entrepreneurship may offer a path for historians to return to the study of individuals and to ideas as a focus of historical change, while at the same time recognizing the importance of social and cultural contexts. 

Historians of entrepreneurship have plenty of questions yet to ask. Is entrepreneurship only a modern phenomenon, and how has its nature changed over time? (McCaffrey, 2013)  

Is an entrepreneur simply someone who succeeded at doing something different?   Is any creative thinker who applies their knowledge to solve problems an entrepreneur, regardless of their financial successes.  Does entrepreneurship only apply in business? Are not creative artists or explorers entrepreneurs? Although economists and scholars in related disciplines have offered answers to the questions, it seems evident that historians can add to this picture by discovering examples of successes and failures in experimentation in business. Perhaps the historical record can help us reshape our definition of the entrepreneur, and his or her role and impact on society.

Finally, historians of entrepreneurship should look for new ways to apply knowledge of their subject in public policy. Historical lessons do not provide absolute guides for behavior, but patterns in the past may give us the wisdom of recognizing analogous patterns of cause and effect in the present. In other words, we should ask ourselves what lessons our historical inquiries can teach about creating a social atmosphere and a legal and institutional structure that promotes entrepreneurship.

This journal issue welcomes article submissions on any topics related to the history of entrepreneurship. Papers that address the following topics are particularly encouraged:
-    Case studies of entrepreneurs in a particular place and time.
-    Pedagogical inquiries about how to add entrepreneurs to the history curriculum, and to standard history textbook accounts of economic and social change.
-    Arguments about the benefits of adding entrepreneurs to the history curriculum or to research programs.
-    Studies of ethnic group entrepreneurs, or even meta-level studies of why American immigrant groups praise entrepreneurs and write hagiographic works focusing on the the contributions of their own entrepreneurs.
-    Papers that consider how the discipline of history has been portrayed as an entrepreneurial enterprise. Historical research requires fact-finding and analysis, but its goal seems to be to overturn standard positions, or least provide new arguments for old views. In this sense, historical research is a disruptive process, and historiography is like a market where a variety of historical views compete for control of the main narrative.
-     Articles that answer how historians can even develop a useful measuring stick for the amount of entrepreneurial spirit or activity a society present?

Submission Guidelines:  We invite empirical historical research, papers about historical methods and the philosophy of history, and papers on pedagogical approaches to history and entrepreneurship. Manuscripts must be original, unpublished works not currently under review for publication at another outlet and are expected to follow the standard formatting guidelines for the journal. Submission must be made online at : http://www.editorialmanager.com/jepp/Default.aspx. Submissions should be prepared according to the Manuscript Guidelines found at http://emeraldgrouppublishing.com/products/journals/author_guidelines.htm?id=jepp

 When submitting your manuscript, please ensure you select this special issue from the relevant drop down menu on page four of the submission process. Reviews, drafts and outcomes will be conducted through mid and late 2018, with publication for those accepted expected to be early 2019.

The submission deadline for this special issue is November 1 2018.

Initial queries can be directed towards the guest editor at the following email address: mjd289@georgetown.edu

Guest Editor:

Michael J. Douma is an Assistant Research Professor and Director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  He has published widely on the history of the Dutch, specifically on topics relating to slavery and migration.  His other historical research interests vary from the history of markets and Constitutions to the history of antiques and folk culture.  His fourth book, titled Creative Historical Thinking (forthcoming with Routledge in 2018), is a unique primer in historical methods. He is interested in interdisciplinary research and runs an annual seminar called Ethics Across the Curriculum to encourage undergraduate and graduate students to consider the role of normative thinking in the social sciences and the humanities.


Casson, Mark. The Entrepreneur in history: from medieval merchant to modern business leader (Palgrave Macmillan 2013).
Casson, Mark. Entrepreneurship, Theory, Networks, History (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Gunderson, Gerald. The Wealth Creators: An Entrepreneurial History of the United States (New York: Truman Talley Books, 1989)
Hansen, Bradley A.  Institutions, entrepreneurs and American economic history: how the Farmer’s Loan and Trust Company shaped the laws of business from 1822 to 1929 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2009).
Landes, David, Mokyr Joel & Baumol William (eds.) The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012,
McCaffrey, Matthew. “Conflicting Views of the Entrepreneur in Turn-of-the-Century Vienna” History of economics review, 58(1) (2013), 27 - 43-43.
McCloskey, Deirdre. 2006. Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McCloskey, Deirdre. 2010. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McCloskey, Deirdre. 2015. Bourgeois Equality: How Betterment Became Ethical, 1600–1948, and Then Suspect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Payne, Peter Lester. British entrepreneurship in the nineteenth century (London: Macmillan, 1974)
Schumpeter, J.A., “The Creative Response in Economic History”, in: Journal of Economic History vol. VII (1947), no. 2, pp. 149-159.
Wilken, Paul H. Entrepreneurship: a comparative and historical sutdy (Norwood, N.J.: Albex Pub. Corp, 1979.)