Noel Butlin Lecture

The 2023 Noel Butlin Lecture will be given by Professor Grietjie Verhoef of the University of Johannesburg.

Measure of significance: Human Capital in Business History

Human capital is the core of enterprise and society through history. More than half a century of historical research acknowledged the vital role of women in economic activity and business enterprise. Gerda Lerner gave the ‘majority its past’ when the full lens of human agency gradually began to shape our understanding of history. From Gamber to Craig extensive literature has since positioned women since 1500 in business as part of the realm of economic enterprise and not a ‘separate sphere’ in business. Women came to play an integral role as providers of human capital for the enterprise of business on different levels of society. This paper suggest a closer reflection on the adaptive capabilities of agents in the world of business by learning from complexity leadership theory. This theory responds to big changes in context by offering an adjustment to the dynamic multifaceted domain human work. Business History research may benefit from this adaptive system of analysis in future research by shifting the focus from gender to human capital. How can global economic advancement gain from historical understanding through a lens of adaptive agency of the totality of human capital? It can be argued that history is instrumental in revealing and explaining the vital link between the complex diversity of human capital and the drivers of social and economic development. This paper addresses human capital as the core to understanding the history of business.