Business Bites: Research Using Business Archives (February 2024)

Business Bites: Research Using Business Archives (February 2024)

During the first Business Bites webinar of the year, we heard from the recipients of the 2022 Business Archive Council Bursary of Business History Research who talked about the research they have carried out using business archives across England and Wales. This session will highlight not only the work of these researchers but will also show the opportunities for research held in Business Archive collections across the UK.

Our speakers were as follows:

Chris Corker

Chris is Lecturer in Management at the School for Business and Society, University of York. His award-winning work in business history explores elements of knowledge, technological development, and business networks in industrial clusters, with focus on the history of Sheffield, metallurgy and armaments. His work has recently been profiled on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking.

Research summary: Chris is working on a business history of stainless steel, its adoption into production by the steel industry and its use in consumer goods, 1913-1936. He has been using the records of three steel producers in the Sheffield region – Cammell-Laird, Vickers, and Thomas Firth – to examine the business and marketing decisions made by boards of directors. He was shortlisted for the BBC New Generation Thinkers scheme.


Dr Emma West

Emma is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, where she recently completed a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her research examines the public reception of modern art, design, literature, and performance in interwar and mid-century Britain. Her work has been published in Modernist Cultures, Modernism/modernity, and the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies; she is currently writing her first book, Art for the People: Everyday Encounters with the Arts in Modern Britain.

Research summary: Emma is using brewers’ records (London Metropolitan Archives, National Brewery Centre), trade periodicals (National Brewing Library) and artists papers (Cambridge University) to explore British brewers’ patronage of the arts from the 1920s to the 1960s. Much of what Emma’s looking at is ephemeral, whether pub performances, exhibitions, murals, or inn signs, so photographs are often the only record of these activities. The best find so far has been an installation view of the 1948 Inn Crafts Exhibition, found in the journal the House of Whitbread. The signs were hung from the ceiling to replicate the effect they had on passers-by in the street: the photograph shows how pub exhibitions blurred the lines between art and commerce, the rarefied world of the gallery and the everyday environment of the public house.


Lewis Smith 

Lewis is a Lecturer in Marketing at Brunel University London with interests in corporate heritage, business history, marketing, and the state. Recently this has included projects on the public and third sector in Britain since the Second World War, most recently focusing on the nationalised energy industries and their use of communications in the post-war period. His work seeks to explore the ways that history can be used to answer questions about modern government and policy, business strategy and social value.”

Research summary: Lewis is working on the history of the public and third sector using a number of different archives including the National Gas Archive, History of Advertising Trust and National Archives. One of the most interesting discoveries has been how contentious advertising has been for nationalised industries throughout the post-war period. Despite these industries consistently performing as innovative and forward-thinking marketeers (often as good as, if not better than their private sector competitors), they were often undermined by the Government which saw advertising as wasteful and sometimes politically motivated against them.

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