Corporate history?
March 9, 2007 9:39 AM   Subscribe

ResearchFilter Part 2: Some weeks ago, I asked about theories of collaboration and received some excellent research suggestions. Now, I'm reworking my thesis proposal and would like to include some details about the history of corporation. Not critiques the modern corporate entity, but an overview of the origins of incorporation, bureaucracy, etc. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

The usual caveat: I'm perfectly capable of digging through library shelves and online journal databases, and am doing so. But if you know of a particular book or article that might prove useful, I'd love to hear about it. Thanks!
posted by aladfar to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The documentary The Corporation includes historical information and expert interviews in addition to its critique of the modern corporation. Getting the names of the interviewees would probably quickly lead to you what you're looking for.
posted by underwater at 10:09 AM on March 9, 2007

JoAnne Yates' work might be relevant regarding origins of bureaucracy, in particular her book Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management.
posted by needled at 10:17 AM on March 9, 2007

I briefly teach a rough history of corporations in my business ethics classes. The overview I usually use is Chapter 5 of Shaw and Barry's Moral Issues in Business. However, I concentrate on the notion of limited liability which may not be the angle you want to take. I believe it's the thing that makes the whole corporate personhood theme as interesting as it is.

A selection from the intro to Chapter 5 (p.206):
The corporate form itself developed during the early Middle Ages, and the first corporations were towns, universities, and ecclesiastical orders. They were chartered by the government and regulated by public statute. As corporate bodies, they existed independently of the particular individuals who constituted their membership at any given time. By the fifteenth century, the courts of England had evolved the principle of limited liability -- thus setting limits, for example, on how much an alderman of the Liverpool Corporation might be required to pay if the city went bankrupt. During the medieval period, however, the law did not grant corporate status to purely profit-making associations. In those days, something besides economic self interest had to be seen as uniting the members of the corporation: religion, a trade, shared political responsibilities.
It then goes on to talk about the East India Company and the need for fractional shares to finance expensive sea voyages and the eventual emergence of purely profit-making US corporations. It's a nice place to get a general overview.

(Note: I seem to remember a couple of stories in the news about even earlier corporate structures in Babylon or Egypt -- so the above might be to Western-centric.)
posted by ontic at 12:12 PM on March 9, 2007

Response by poster: That's very much what I'm looking for Ontic - a brief overview of the origins of corporation, including the Dutch Each India Company. Thanks!
posted by aladfar at 6:45 PM on March 9, 2007

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