review by Jim Tomlinson (University of Glasgow)
book edited by Paolo Di Martino, Andrew Popp and Peter Scott.
‘People, Places and Business Cultures: Essays in Honour of Francesca Carnevali’ is published by Boydell and Brewer. SAVE 25% when you order direct from the publisher – offer ends on the 2nd April 2019. See below for details.
Festschriften are usually produced at or around retirement, and to celebrate long academic careers. This collection, tragically, marks the end of a foreshortened career, that of Francesca Carnevali, who died in 2013 at the age of 48.
The chapters of the book have all been written by historian colleagues and friends of Francesca. The authors come from a diverse set of academic backgrounds, including the prominent medievalist Chris Wickham and the social and cultural historian Matthew Hilton. But most of the contributors come, as did Francesca, from the broadly-defined subject of business history.
Francesca’s own work provided a broad and variegated set of concerns and approaches that enables the contributors to link her work to their own diverse areas of expertise. Thus, for example, Leslie Hannah (who supervised Francesca’s PhD, and co-authored an article on banking with her), provides a new approach to the old question of the comparative performance of British banking before 1914. He stresses the paradox (at least for those who think competition is always the key to efficiency), that by any standards Britain at that time had a highly competitive banking system, yet suffered a growth ‘climacteric’. More broadly, Hannah, like Francesca herself, adheres to a broadly declinist view of British economic history, whilst clearly identifying the unsatisfactory nature of many declinist stories.
Francesca’s own work on banking contrasted Italy and Britain, and the financing of Italian small business is the concern of Alberto Rinaldi and Anna Spadavecchia’s chapter. The conclusion of this analysis emphasizes the embeddedness of financial institutions in legal, social and political conditions as well as economic circumstances, a conclusion that links to Francesca’s broadening concerns after her early work on banking. Key to this broadening was an examination of social capital and trust, as key, if problematic, concepts for understanding business behaviour.
This behaviour is examined in a variety of contexts in this book, ranging from Andrew Popp’s study of Liverpool cotton brokers and their ‘public staging of business life’ to Lucy Newton’s study(jointly authored with Francesca) of making and selling pianos in Victorian and Edwardian England. This concern with consumer goods is linked by Peter Scott and James Walker to an innovative study of how mass consumption and mass marketing, to some degree at least, blurred class demarcations on interwar Britain.
These empirical studies are complemented by more conceptually focussed chapter, by Chris Wickham on the genealogy of ‘micro-history’, by Kenneth Lipartito on the concept of social capital and its limits, and by Andrea Colli on the problems of doing comparative European history. Last, but very far from least, there is a characteristically wide-ranging and insightful chapter by Mathew Hilton on the problems of writing the economic and social history of twentieth-century Britain in the light of the recent ‘turns’ in how that history is being written.
The diversity of this book’s contents is a strength not a weakness. Business historians of almost any bent will find something interesting and important to engage with. The breadth of analytical and empirical concerns, allied with the close attention to important conceptual puzzles, makes this book a fitting reflection of, and tribute to, Francesca’s productive and well-lived life.
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Note: this review was originally published on-line in Business History, 2019. It is reproduced by kind permission of Lee-Ann Anderson (Permissions and Licensing, Taylor and Francis).