What is new in “a new history of management”?

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The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the contributions of the so-called “Historic Turn” in Organization Studies through the attempt by Cummings et al. (2016) to offer a new and alternative approach to teaching and researching the history of management ideas. A New History of Management is intended to be a provocation rather than a practical plan, and by their own admission, Cummings et al. (2016) prefer controversy to detailed analysis.

This paper offers a comment and reinterpretation of a single contribution to highlight deficiencies which are symptomatic of the post-modernist research agenda around the “Historic Turn” in Organization Studies. The argument develops through a critical reading of Cummings et al. (2016) to determine whether theirs is a thoughtful and serious piece of work.

Cummings et al. (2016) invite us to revise and re-evaluate the genesis of management ideas available across textbooks. This by questioning some of the beliefs regarding the origins of management thought within textbooks aimed at both general management and the history of management thought. The premise of Cummings and colleagues is a timely and welcomed suggestion. So is their attempt to broaden the debate to alternative epistemological positions. They can potentially help to improve the emergence of conceptual and theoretical understandings of the history of managers’, business and management thought. Although far from being exhaustive, the paper points to the large number of inconsistencies and poor historiography in Cummings et al. (2016). This is in line with other contributions to the so-called “Historic Turn” in Organization Studies. The central argument presented by this paper is the myopic and technically poor approach of the “Historic Turn”. It is the case that Cummings et al. (2016) fail in their attempt to offer an alternative to established textbooks or explain the development of different approaches to construct systematic studies that, over time, consider the evolution of management, managers and those who have conceptualized their performance.

Research limitations/implications
This paper does not present new (archival) historical evidence.

The central contribution/ambition of this paper is to incentivize an advance of the current understanding of the origins and evolution of systematic thinking on management, managers and business organizations. The ambition of this paper is in line with Cummings et al. (2016) aim to incentivize research into how textbooks address the origins of management and management thought. Textbooks in both general management and the history of management thought, and the story told in them are important tools that speak directly to the ability of historical research to help advance the different disciplines that form general studies in business and management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-124
JournalJournal of Management History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


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