Business History and Risk

University of Leeds
February 2002

CARR, in association with the Centre for Business History, University of Leeds held a successful workshop aimed at examining the various ways in which business historians have explored issues of risk in their work. Tony Freyer (University of Alabama) surveyed national patterns of antitrust and risk regulation, focusing on divergent national consciousnesses of accountability and competition. Oliver Westall (University of Lancaster) focused on the insurance industry as a bearer of risk and highlighted the historical lack of systematic risk assessment in most traditional insurance businesses and the rather narrow fronts on which statistical risk evaluation had advanced. Jo Melling (University of Exeter) examined the risks borne by employees in industrial employment, focusing on the history of industrial silicosis. He challenged the view that trade unions, by campaigning for compensation, have hindered prevention and regulation. Finally, Philip Augar (author of The Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism), discussed the City of London and the management and changing cultures of risk before and after the 'Big Bang'.

The workshop, attended by historians, economists, accountants and risk analysts from 11 institutions, highlighted the fact that although 'risk' is a recurrent issue in business history and in many of the theories that it draws on, little work focuses directly on understanding the nature of risk itself.