Proposal preview

Entrepreneurs and their Endeavours from 1300 to 1900: Innovations in Products, Processes and Markets

Entrepreneurs are an important source of innovation because they possess the ability both to recognise opportunities and to judge whether or not they are viable to pursue. Working individually and collaboratively they have found solutions to technological and institutional problems and created entirely new business sectors. Profits from their enterprises have been used philanthropically to improve education and welfare (Casson and Casson, 2013; Casson and Lee, 2011; Jones and Friedman, 2011; Bucheli and Wadhwani, 2014). Yet despite their significance, their role has often been overshadowed in the economic history and business history scholarship by a focus on the large firm and its managerial structure. This session has developed from recent academic work on the history of entrepreneurship which has highlighted the need to re-incorporate entrepreneurs into academic scholarship. Innovation is a cumulative process, with entrepreneurs often learning from the ‘best practice’ of their predecessors. The long-run chronological spread of this session from 1300 to 1900 demonstrates this continuous process and complements the first-call sessions by extending the coverage back in time to the middle ages.
Medieval entrepreneurs created an international cloth trade and a dynamic property market, Lee and Casson demonstrate. Commodities, including cloth, were traded in markets which, Masschaele shows, were a focus of significant entrepreneurial investment whose success or failure depended on the entrepreneurial strategies of their founder. Entrepreneurs, notably the Medici family, established global brands for these commodities, as Fredona and Lopes demonstrate.
The early modern period saw new business sectors emerge, based on commodifying creativity. Harbor shows that successive entrepreneurial innovations resulted in a move from a court, church and aristocratic centred cultural life to a vibrant commercial concert and publishing sector.
Subsequent generations created further institutional changes in the cultural sector, aided by new railway distribution networks, as Joseph’s examination of British publishers in 1843-1900 illustrates. Newly formed joint-stock banks financed these entrepreneurial firms, Barnes and Newton argue. Profits were not only recycled into the business, however. Textile entrepreneurs in nineteenth-century Blackburn engaged in cultural pursuits by purchasing medieval coins and manuscripts. They bequeathed these items to the local community for future generations to enjoy and examine. In their field of trade, and in their interest in the middle ages, Johnston’s nineteenth century textile entrepreneurs, who end our session, resonate with Lee’s medieval clothiers, who commence it.
M. Bucheli and R. D. Wadhwani (eds.) (2014), Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods (Oxford: OUP); M. Casson and C. Casson (2013) The Entrepreneur in History: From Medieval Merchant to Modern Business Leader (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke); M. Casson and J. S. Lee (2011), ‘The Origin and Development of Markets: A Business History Perspective’, Business History Review 85: 9-37; G. G. Jones, and W. Friedman (2011), ‘Business History: Time for Debate’, Business History Review 85: 1–8.


  • Catherine Casson, University of Manchester,, UK
  • John S Lee, University of York,, UK
  • Daniel Wadhwani, University of the Pacific,, US

Session members

  • John S Lee, University of York,
  • Catherine Casson, University of Manchester,
  • James Masschaele, Rutgers University,
  • Robert Fredona, University of York,
  • Teresa da Silva Lopes, University of York,
  • Catherine Harbor, Royal Holloway, University of London,
  • Marrisa Joseph, University of Reading,
  • Victoria Barnes, Max Planck Institute for European Legal History,
  • Lucy Newton, University of Reading,
  • Cynthia Johnston, University of London,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Daniel Wadhwani, University of the Pacific,