Historical Research on International Business, Management and Strategy: An Approach and Framework Development

Historical Research on International Business, Management and Strategy: An Approach and Framework Development

Pedro Silva (CeBER, Faculty of Economics, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8283-1.ch010
OnDemand PDF Download:
No Current Special Offers


History matters. Recently, there has been an increase of interest in the use of historical research in the fields of international business, management and strategy; however, the use of this approach is still underexplored when compared to the use of more quantitative methodologies. Historical research seeks the identification, location, evaluation, and synthesis of data from the past to unveil previous events and, also, to relate them to both present and future, contributing to the understanding and explanation of theories. This chapter reviews the foundations of the historical research method in international business, management, and strategy and proposes a framework to guide historical research in these fields. Contrariwise to the traditional argument that history is theory resistant, at least from an independent-dependent and a context-invariant standpoint that so often characterizes economic approaches, historical research can contribute to a better understanding of the business phenomena.
Chapter Preview


Historical research is an approach based on studying the meaning of past events in an attempt to interpret the facts, explain the causes of events, and relate them to the present. It relies mostly on primary historical data such as direct accounts of events and, less frequently, on secondary sources such as information from persons who did not witness the event. The use of historical research has found application in several fields of research ranging from social work, information and technology, nursing, or education.

Historical research contributes to social work as one of the methods that allows to describe how, where, and how social work started and developed during time. Similarly, in information systems it contributes for example to understand the dynamics of organizational changes related with the implementation of electronic data processing equipment. In the nursing field, countless researchers have resorted to it as nursing is strengthened by historical studies based on the oral history method (i.e., recorded interviews between a narrator with personal experience and a well-informed interviewer with the purpose of adding to the historical record). Regarding education, whenever one undertakes a new research project it implies a number of activities to be conducted, requiring one to assume the role of an historian, including the capability to track down, retrieve, comprehend, critique and report previous relevant research.

Aside from its use in the above-mentioned fields of research, the recent times have also witnessed an increase of interest in exploring the relationship between history and the fields of international business, management and strategy. This can be attributed to several reasons. International business, management and strategy scholars have shown a long-term interest and devoted several efforts to examine firms’ historical experiences (Moeen, 2017) in order to identify the main sources of firms’ sustained competitive advantages (Barney, 1991; Oliver, 1997). Historical studies that resort to a more contextualist approach to develop their explanations can be more powerful than research that resorts to averages because if firms with sustained competitive advantages are (often) considered outliers, then, approaches focusing on outliers can be considered superior (Argyres et al., 2020). There has also been an increase of interest in deepening the knowledge on how firms use their history in strategy processes (i.e., history as an endogenous resource) and how firms’ interpretations of the past have an impact on their future strategy-making decisions (Kaplan & Orlikowski, 2013). Moreover, the use of historical research can contribute to the identification and establishment of causal relationships (Oxley, Rivkin, & Ryall, 2010). Finally, with the diffusion of online citation databases, social sciences research has witnessed an overall increase in the past years.

Historians and business scholars are generally guided by the same research problems, i.e., topics that concern with the analysis of the processes, nevertheless, they often reach different conclusions, particularly on the nature of causation. Although it was logical for historical methods to be one of the most used methods of research in the field of international businesses considering the role of time, they have been mostly neglected from business research (Buckley, 2016). This can be explained because while historical research can be important for advancing knowledge, it lacks an appropriate method (Savitt, 1980). In the same line of thought, Argyres et al. (2020) note that the management field is missing a precise and consistent definition of historical research methods. Buckley (2016) also argue for the importance of international business scholars to question their research approaches more deeply.

Set against this background, the objective of this chapter is to review the foundations of historical research, discuss how it can potentially fit the fields of international business, management and strategy, provide research guidelines to orientate historical research, and contribute to advance and enrich theoretical research in these fields. Throughout the chapter, examples of contemporary research using historical approaches are provided, some of the empirical challenges associated with historical research discussed, and historical research techniques presented to improve the power of the historical analysis.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Secondary Source: Published analysis and descriptions of past events, geographic regions, individuals, groups, and organizations.

Primary Source: Unpublished archival and oral qualitative and quantitative evidence of past events, territories, groups, individuals, and their interactions, generated by private and public individuals and/or organizations alongside with information on the actions of those individuals and organizations.

History: Academic discipline that uses narrative to collect, organize and present events based on their context using historical sources such as written documents, oral accounts, and material objects, among others.

Narrative Analysis: Form that relates observations in a qualitative analysis regardless if the method used is narrative-based or not, meaning that while numbers can be used for illustrative purposes, the power of the explanation stems from the verbal presentation of the argument.

Triangulation: Practice of using at least two, but idealistically, multiple sources of data such as data from interviews, focus groups and written archives, and multiple approaches to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon of interest by providing multiple perspectives, corroborating evidence and juxtaposing histories.

Periodization: Process of dividing a chronological narrative into separate and sequential periods of time with distinct starting and ending marks, summarizing, and structuring a historical narrative and making it more understandable.

Methods: Class of techniques used to compile, describe, and analyze primary and secondary data sources to support contextualized explanations and interpretations of a phenomenon.

Case: Single instance of an event or a phenomenon.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: