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The genre of corporate history



Charles Booth
Associate Professor in Strategy and Organisation

Peter Clark

Stephen Procter

Michael Rowlinson


Purpose - This paper seeks to identify and define the genre of corporate history within the pervasive historical discourse produced by and about organizations which tells the past of an organization across a multiplicity of texts: published works - commissioned and critical accounts, academic tomes and glossy coffee-table books - as well as web pages, annual reports and promotional pamphlets. Design/methodology/approach - The approach takes the form of systematic reading of historical narratives for 85 mainly British and US companies from the Fortune Global 500. For these companies, a search was carried out for US printed sources in the British Library and a survey was conducted of historical content in web pages. Findings - From extensive reading of the historical discourse, recurrent formal features (medium, authorship, publication, paratext and imagery) and elements of thematic content (narrative, characters, cultural paradigms and business success), which together define the genre of corporate history, have been identified. Such a definition provides competence in the reading of historical narratives of organizations and raises questions regarding the role of history in organizational identity, memory and communication. In conclusion it is argued that the interpretation of corporate history cannot be reduced to its promotional function for organizations. Research limitations/implications - The list of the formal features and thematic content of corporate history detailed here is by no means exhaustive. They are not variables, but signs, which, in various combinations, compose the narrative and signify the genre. Practical implications - It seems likely that coffee-table books will increasingly replace academic commissioned histories, with consultants professionalizing the discourse and formalizing the genre of corporate history. Originality/value - The genre of corporate history has hitherto been neglected in organization theory, where the linguistic turn has led to a preoccupation with talk as text. The use of genre to analyse corporate history represents a textual turn to literary organizational texts as text. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


Delahaye, A., Delahaye, A., Booth, C., Clark, P., Procter, S., & Rowlinson, M. (2009). The genre of corporate history. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 22(1), 27-48.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Feb 2, 2009
Journal Journal of Organizational Change Management
Print ISSN 0953-4814
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 1
Pages 27-48
Keywords business history, publications, narratives
Public URL
Publisher URL