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Business History in International Business  

Teresa da Silva Lopes

Historical research on the multinational enterprise has long been important in international business studies. When the discipline of international business first developed in the late 1950s, historical evidence was frequently used to build generalizations and propose theories. However, over time, that tradition eroded, as the discipline moved toward using more quantitative and econometric reasoning. International business and business history share important commonalities, such as the topics they address. These include: multinational patterns of international trade and foreign investment; the boundaries and competitiveness of the multinational enterprise; changes in organizational strategy and structure of multinational enterprises and the connections between the two; coordination and management of the activities of the multinational enterprise; impact of multinationals on knowledge and capital flows in host countries; and investment, resilience, and survival in high-risk environments. Nonetheless, the approaches followed can be quite distinct. While both disciplines consider the firm and other institutional forms as the unit of analysis, the way context and the environment are integrated in the analysis, the methodologies followed, the types of comparative analysis carried out, the temporal dimensions adopted, and the way in which theory is used are quite distinct. There are possible ways forward for international business history to be more integrated and provide new dimensions in international business studies. These include using history as a generator of theory to understand phenomena such as the origins of competitiveness and as a way to uncover phenomena that can be fully understood only after the situation has occurred, such as the impact of entrepreneurship on economic development; as a way to check false claims that certain phenomena is new; and to inform discussions on complex phenomena and grand challenges such as globalization and deglobalization, investment in high risk environments, and climate change.