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Business history, why and how? Historians, archivists and actors: cross-eyes: Opening



ID: <10670/1.rtel2n>


The historical roundtable organized by Altadis’ History Committee, “Seita, Lands of History”, was not designed to re-examine the historical facts already presented in business histories. Its more modest, more practical goal was to compare the experiences of the partners who collaborated on these histories, by bringing together employees, archivists and historians in a frank and open discussion. Three topics were chosen: human resources management, innovations and sensitive subjects. Twelve companies were represented, all comparable in age, size and their direct or indirect relationship with the State. Twenty-seven brief presentations were followed by three debates to answer a selected number of questions: What motivated the requests for a history? How could they have been satisfied? What duties are assigned to company archivists? How much freedom do historians enjoy regarding access to written and oral archives, the approaches employed, and the internal and external publication of their findings?From this perhaps overly ambitious project it emerged that their perceptions on many points were similar, and generally grounds for satisfaction: the interest of employees, and to a greater extent, retirees, in their history; the diverse, yet often complementary expectations of companies and their historians; the renewal of historical approaches in the history of human resources management and in the history of innovations; the partners’ agreement on the validity of setting rules for the preservation, communication and historical treatment of sensitive subjects on a case-by-case basis; the recent development of the need for companies to submit “historical proof” when faced with litigation; the overriding influence of senior executives in the vitality of the research; and the interest shown in employee stories, serving as sources of history and a sign of recognition for the employees.But there were also differences, with some archivists more concerned with serving the person requesting the research than the historian; wide disparity in the companies’ ability to provide the required financial and logistical resources; and sometimes no younger generation to carry on historical research—perhaps because of the discipline’s stringent demands—contrasting with the productivity and enthusiasm of the previous generation.

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