Accounting history, a privileged way to approach historical research. an illustrative case: the war of france and the holy see against spain, 1556-1559

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ACCOUNTING HISTORY, A PRIVILEGED WAY TO APPROACH HISTORICAL RESEARCH.
AN ILLUSTRATIVE CASE: THE WAR OF FRANCE AND THE HOLY SEE AGAINST SPAIN, 1556-1559

by

Esteban HERNÁNDEZ ESTEVE

Just as its name indicates, my exposition is composed of two different parts. The first part is a thesis and the second one consists of a historical research that pretends support the thesis.

The thesisis that accounting history is a privileged way to approach historical research in general. The illustrative case exposed to support this proposition presents the accounts for the years 1556-1560 of the General Factory of the Kingdoms of Spain. Philip II, king of Spain, created this organism just to collect and place the funds in the required locations to face up to the war that the Pope Paul IVand Henry II of France had launched against him.

1. The Thesis

Let us see now the arguments for the thesis with more detail.

The international expansion of accounting history in the last fifteen or twenty years has really been impressive. It has reached a level that has opened a new stage of development, a stage that calls for a new conception of the discipline that is in accordancewith the degree of maturity that it has reached. The new concept of accounting history has to view it not only as a study of the evolution of accounting and related matters, but as a privileged way to approach historical research at all. And that by the following reasons:

All or almost all human activities have an economic aspect and, therefore, they need to keep accounts in one or other way.However, the fact is that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of account books and bundles of accounting records all over the world gathering the dust of ages, because they have been never touched by a historian’s hand.

This is because most historical events, even the most important, have been described and interpreted without taking into account the possible existence of accountingregisters related to them.

This fact is high surprising. Already in 1950 the accounting and economic historian Federigo Melis entitled one of its books as Storia della Ragioneria. Contributo alla conoscenza e interpretazione delle fonti più significativi della storia economica, that is, “Accounting history. A contribution to the knowledge and interpretation of one of the most significant sources ofeconomic history”. However, now as before only a handful of economic historians and historians overall have used books of accounts in their researches.

This may obey to three main reasons:

1st reason

The first one is that accounting and accountants have been up to the last decades a world separated of the intellectual circles. The intelligentsia had always considered that accountantscarried out a practical routine work, proper of little employees, a work which could contribute very little, if anything, to the world of ideas. Accountants felt very hurt by this opinion, and instead to fight to demonstrate their intellectual capability, they opted for withdrawing into themselves and answering the disdain with a more disdainful silence.

I think that this situation has changedradically in the last 25 o 30 years. The education of accounting and business administration has been fully integrated into the university and academic life. Economic development has enhanced these subjects since they are the more needed and asked for. This way, subjects that began being something like the poor relative at the Faculties of Economics have become today the preferred ones by students.Accounting professors are exploring and taking up every day new void spaces in adjacent study fields. They meet in international congresses of good academic level and I do not think that they have now any cause of complaint due to a lack of social or professional acceptance. On the other side, the economic world fully recognizes that accounting is an indispensable tool of business management and...
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