Business History Explorer (BHE) is a bibliography covering the history of UK businesses and the industries to which they belong. At the end of 2015 it contains c42,000 entries. Its prime purpose is to assist researchers in locating historical information about specific businesses. As such it is the successor to Francis Goodall, A Bibliography of British Business Histories, published in 1987. The work in gathering information for the present bibliography has been undertaken by John Orbell with Richard Storey. Both are grateful to Francis for his enthusiastic co-operation in allowing them to build upon his earlier pioneering work.
BHE is supported by the Business Archives Council as part of its remit to preserve business archives and to encourage the study of business history. The Council has funded the development of the Business History Explorer application and provided a home for it via its website.
BHE’s content includes monographs, periodical articles, chapters within monographs, theses and unpublished manuscripts. It also includes selected items such as publicity and marketing publications and employee handbooks that give a snapshot of a business at a moment in its history. Product literature such as trade catalogues is included on a highly selective basis.
The bibliography aims to give significant information about the business(es) to which a publication relates; this includes its names, business activities (at sector and sub-sector level) and geographical locations (at four levels). Also, in most cases, a very brief historical narrative is provided to enable the user to assess the significance of a business. It is therefore possible to search for publications by the different names under which a business traded, for publications on businesses and industries operating within a particular geographical area and for businesses and industries within a particular business sector and sub-sector. The aim of the bibliography is to add substantial value.
Publications selected for inclusion are largely histories of businesses or industries, especially ones that are privately printed – of which there are many – or which are otherwise difficult to locate. The location of hard-to-find publications has been the major priority. Also included are publications that are not historical works but which are nevertheless useful to the historian by providing insights into the history of businesses and industries at, say, a point in time. These last publications fall into two broad groups. One group describes assets, or a particular asset, especially when these form a substantial element of a business – eg a power station, waterworks, coal mine, iron and steel works, hotel, office building, brandname, product, etc. The second describes the whole business, including plant, products, services, organisation, subsidiaries, etc. The latter are often published as marketing or publicity publications or as employee handbooks. Generally speaking works devoted specifically to products are included on a highly selective basis. Inclusion is more likely if such a publication is one of few surviving published works relating to the business.
The bibliography stretches across the full spectrum of business activity but focuses especially on manufacturing where - with the exception of a few sectors - it has sought to give comprehensive coverage. It is especially strong on metal fabrication, mining, textiles production, shipbuilding, motor vehicle production, electrical and mechanical engineering, brewing and distilling, for all of which there is a vast literature. There is also much on more specialised areas such as the manufacture of jewellery, furniture, sports goods, toys and games. Coal and metal mining, food processing, fishing, whaling and horticulture are well covered, but not farming. Utilities figure prominently, although many had long been owned by municipalities or the state rather than by private enterprise.
There is a good coverage of the major service providers such as banks, insurance businesses, financial intermediaries, accountancy solicitors, advertising agents, consulting engineers, estate agents and the like. There is also significant coverage of more specific areas such as cemetery development and management, funeral services, laundry and other cleaning services and plant hire. The leisure industries are less well covered, partly because they are so diffuse and border so much on cultural history, but an attempt has been made to include major works on broadcasting, publishing, film production and exhibition, tourist services and hotels and catering.
For some business sectors the selection of what to include has had to be particularly discretionary on account of the huge volume of works available and their focus on products or assets. These sectors include ceramics manufacture; architecture services; railways, canals and road passenger transport; the book trades; publishing; etc. To have included them comprehensively might have doubled the length of the bibliography.
Published histories of businesses are a mixed-bag, ranging from scholarly works by eminent academics to short and descriptive pamphlets written and published in-house for celebratory purposes. All are included in the bibliography. They fall into three broad groups - academic works, works commissioned by the business (sometimes from an academic source) and works written by enthusiast historians. Those in the latter group, it has to be said, are rising rapidly both in number and quality.
At the core of the bibliography are the 4,000 entries published in Francis Goodall’s, Bibliography of British Business Histories, published in 1987. To this the present compilers have added almost 40,000 further entries. Many of these have been published since 1987 but many others have been newly located in online library and archive catalogues - vital search tools available on the desktop to which Francis had no access in the 1980s. Foremost amongst these is the Copac catalogue which combines the catalogues of leading academic and research libraries, not least the Integrated Catalogue of the British Library. Otherwise the online catalogues of museums, professional institutions and specialist bodies ranging from Brewing Archive at Glasgow University to British Telecom’s Archive in London have been consulted. The library of the Centre for Business History in Scotland, including the library collection assembled by the Business Archives Council, has been a vital source of information, as have private collections. The content of local studies libraries and record offices are being surveyed as time allows.
Many specialist and regional hard-copy bibliographies have also been consulted and these are listed, along with library, etc, resources consulted, in 'Sources'
How comprehensive is the bibliography? The hunt for business history books is indeed a challenging one, as so many have been published privately and never deposited as a matter of routine in copyright libraries. There can be few if any areas of publishing where so much has been so narrowly circulated. Whilst Francis Goodall uncovered a good number and while many more have subsequently been located using computer-based catalogues, there can be little doubt that many others await discovery by the intrepid bibliographer, especially in the stacks of local libraries which have yet to publish their entire catalogues online.
Serendipity is one element in increasing the coverage of BHE: the quality press, especially its obituary columns, the local press and literary and special-interest journals all can yield titles which might otherwise have been missed. Likewise second-hand bookshops, charity shops and stalls at special events yield obscure titles
In structuring BHE in order to meet its prime objective of enabling the location of works relating to specific businesses and industries, the driving principle has been to organise publications by name of business or industry. Thus case studies which use a particular business to explore a particular aspect of business history – say corporate governance, small businesses or public ownership – will be linked to the business rather than to the subject area.
BHE was first published in late 2012. It is being continuously updated in order to include new publications and to plug gaps in the existing constituency.
Any comments about BHE should addressed to the bibliography administrator at Tailor’s End Press (Business History Explorer). Questions relating to the Business Archives Council, including membership enquiries, should be addressed to the Council. Contact details are:
Tailor's End Press (Business History Explorer), 59 High St, Ixworth, Bury St Edmunds, IP31 2HN. www.businesshistoryexplorer.co.uk
Business Archives Council, c/o Group Archives, Lloyds Banking Group Archives, 4th floor, 33 Old Broad Street, London EC2N 1HZ. www.businessarchivescouncil.org.uk