What Is Organizational History? Toward a Creative Synthesis of History and Organization Studies

As a synthesis of organization theory and historiography, the field of organizational history is mature enough to contribute to wider theoretical and historiographical debates and is sufficiently developed for a theoretical consideration of its subject matter. In this introduction to the Special Topic Forum on History and Organization Studies, we take up the question, “What is organizational history?” and consider three distinct arguments that we believe frame the next phase of development for historical work within organization studies. First, we argue that following the “historic turn,” organizational history has developed as a subfield of organization studies that takes seriously the matter of history, promoting historical research as a way to enrich the broad endeavor of organization. Second, if “history matters,” then organization theory needs a theoretical account of the past that goes beyond the mere use of history as a context to test or as an example to illustrate theory. Third, the focus on “history that matters” in the present leads to two important considerations: how organizations can use “rhetorical history” as a strategic resource and the need to engage with historiographically significant subjects that connect organization theory to larger humanistic concerns, such as slavery and racism.