Green Capitalism? Print E-mail
Exploring the Crossroads of Environmental and Business History

October 30-31, 2014
Conference at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE
Conveners: Adam Rome (University of Delaware), Yda Schreuder (University of Delaware), Hartmut Berghoff (GHI), Erik Rau (Hagley Museum and Library), and Roger Horowitz (Hagley Museum and Library)
Sponsored by the Center for the History of Business, Technology and Society and the German Historical Institute

Call for Papers

This conference hopes to point to fresh opportunities for joining the insights of environmental and business history. We are especially interested in providing historical perspectives on a question of obvious relevance today: Can capitalism be green - or at least greener? Our title - "Green Capitalism?" - is admittedly drawn from contemporary discourse. But we are convinced that history can provide invaluable insights into the complex and changing relationship between business and the environment.

We invite papers that consider in specific historical contexts the extent to which the business enterprises that are central to capitalism operated in an environmentally sound or detrimental manner by the way they dealt with their refuse, by managing their use of resources, and mitigating or ignoring any harmful impact on those who handled their products or are affected by their waste. Though business activities have had many deleterious environmental consequences, businesses sometimes have acted to protect the environment, reduce their direct and indirect environmental impact, and promote environmental reform in society. That is true now, but it also was sometimes the case long before the rise of modern environmentalism.

Papers can take many forms. We expect that many papers will focus on the history of particular firms. Others may analyze historical controversies about the use of resources or the cultural, political, and environmental factors that have shaped how business treats the environment. Given the global nature of business activity and environmental concerns, we encourage papers that take a transnational perspective on these issues. The papers may address any area of the world in the industrial era, roughly after 1800.

Papers might consider, among others, the following questions:
  • In what instances, and in what ways, has business mitigated pollution and other harmful environmental impacts, for what reasons and objectives, and in what political, economic, and social contexts?
  • What were the intended and unintended consequences of the innovations instituted by businesses to mitigate their impact on the environment?
  • Why and in what context has business or business organizations advocated for government regulation of environmental conditions?
  • When, and in what specific episodes, have there been conflicts among businesses and business sectors over environmental and energy issues?
  • When and why have businesses sought to encourage changes in consumer behavior that have environmental implications?
  • In what ways have business interests drawn on or adapted environmental concerns to their business strategies?
  • How has privatization of resource allocation functions once reserved for public agencies (e.g. energy distribution, water procurement) influenced engagement with environmental issues by business?
  • How has the globalization of business activity affected the terrain of environmental concerns: where products are made, used, regulated, and discarded or recycled?
  • How has the location of environmental and resource concerns in local, regional, national, or international contexts influenced business initiatives?
  • How have business initiatives around the environment been shaped by local and national conditions, regulatory regimes, legal institutions, and/or political culture?

The program committee includes: Adam Rome (University of Delaware), Yda Schreuder (University of Delaware), Hartmut Berghoff (German Historical Institute), Erik Rau (Hagley Museum and Library), and Roger Horowitz (Hagley Museum and Library).

Proposals may be up to 500 words in length, and should include a summary of the paper's argument, the sources on which it draws, and the larger historiographic context or contemporary debates with which it engages. A short c.v. or resume should accompany the proposal. The deadline for receipt of proposals is May 1, 2014 and should be sent via email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Presenters will receive travel support to cover most costs to attend the conference.