Historical accounts, conversations and contextsby Cheryl Susan McWatters

Accounting History Review



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Accounting History Review

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Historical accounts, conversations and contexts

Cheryl Susan McWattersa a University of Ottawa, Canada

Published online: 04 Jul 2014.

To cite this article: Cheryl Susan McWatters (2014) Historical accounts, conversations and contexts,

Accounting History Review, 24:1, 1-5, DOI: 10.1080/21552851.2014.923596

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21552851.2014.923596


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Accounting History Review, 2014

Vol. 24, No. 1, 1–5, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21552851.2014.923596


Historical accounts, conversations and contexts

Three years ago, my predecessor’s inaugural editorial in Accounting History Review (Walker 2011) outlined the decision to refocus Accounting, Business and Financial History (ABFH) as

Accounting History Review (AHR). At the time, it was judged a bold step with certain scholars interpreting the name change as a narrowing of the journal’s ambit. To the contrary, this refocus has recognised the increasing maturity and vitality of our discipline. The resulting broadening of

AHR’s scope has also inspired historical research and writing that push and extend the boundaries of time and space. We have seen the encouraging connection of accounting history with emerging areas of scholarship, and with the intellectual interests of other disciplines and research domains.

Three years later, we can reflect on this decision and its impacts with quiet satisfaction and evidence of positive achievement and outcomes. When journal rankings and journal quality (two items that are not, by definition, necessarily synonymous) are highly contested by researchers, university administrators and research funding agencies, AHR has established its disciplinary leadership. I assume the journal editorship, therefore, with gratitude for the heavy lifting undertaken by my predecessor, Professor Stephen Walker. While a new editor brings customary changes in terms of editorial style and sensibilities, nonetheless important continuities remain.

Quiet satisfaction cannot translate into complacency. We have yet to achieve a level of maturity in our publishing patterns such that we can sit back and rest on past laurels. AHR will continue to seek out and to privilege historical accounts which inform and are informed by broader historiographical debates and cross-disciplinary engagement. This preferential shift acknowledges that accounting history is no longer a discipline primarily centred inwardly on how accounting’s past demonstrates present-day utility, but a history that looks outwardly into novel directions and into arenas with which accounting interacts, and which presumes without hesitation, accounting’s embeddedness within a multi-faceted institutional and social context.

The first months of my editorship have included considerable time to review and re-read past issues of ABFH and AHR, and to take note of trends with respect to prevalent topics, theoretical persuasions and research methodologies. While trends and themes have emerged, dominated, changed and resurfaced over time, clear evidence exists of AHR’s consistency with respect to highquality scholarship that challenges our disciplinary boundaries of what is ‘accounting history’.

Indeed, accounting history, especially for those who are not engaged in historical research, conjures up fascination for double-entry ledgers, counting houses and a frequent propensity for historicism. While the divisive debates of the 1990s about the new and old accounting history © 2014 Taylor & Francis

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O cto be r 2 01 4 2 C.S. McWatters (Funnell 1996; Miller, Hopper, and Laughlin 1991) are now themselves historical artefacts, these dialogues did contribute to the development of rich research agendas. These agendas have invigorated accounting history research through a willingness to accept the variety of contexts and the variation of forms in which accounting can be confronted and examined. Perhaps we have come to that ‘fruitful conversation’ underscored by Eley (2008, 433; cf. Eley 2001), where seemingly ‘irreducible yet mutually respectful differences’ can be overcome through work that moves beyond sub-specialisms, resulting in ‘new hybridities’.

More recent scholarship underscores an important and impressive shift from accounting history – or perhaps more aptly the history of accounting – to accounting in history. Rather than offering apologetic accounts to colleagues of what we do as accounting historians, researchers demonstrate enthusiastic confidence in their craft. We have progressed from being accounting historians to historians who examine multi-faceted social and institutional contexts through the lens of accounting (Napier 2006). While it does not preclude us from debating about doubleentry bookkeeping (and its role in the emergence of capitalism), it equally does not prevent us from investigating the position of accounting in broader intellectual deliberations, especially the implication of accounting in diverse arenas across space and time. For instance, current debates in organisation studies between historical neo-institutionalism and institutionalist history could be usefully informed by the long-standing recognition within accounting historiography of the archive, evidence, source criticism and the verification of data. In this way, accounting historians can contribute positively and authoritatively to discussions with respect to historically informed and theoretically informed research, especially into how history and organisation studies might learn from each other to provide richer narratives of organisational life (Rowlinson and Hassard 2013; Scranton and Fridenson 2013).