Studying the History of Accounting at Weatherhead
By Kim Palmer, University Marketing and Communications
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you probably realize that our economy is a global economy -- filled with imports and exports and an ever increasing rate of international trade activity.
Of course with new opportunities come new challenges, and codifying an international system of finance is one of the challenges we face in a global economy.
In fact, much like language, many countries have different and unique accounting, banking, and financial systems.
“I believe that if students don’t know the history of financial statements, they cannot comprehend why they are the way they are now,” says Marco Marinoni, professor of accounting at the University of Milan and visiting Weatherhead scholar. “Understanding history is the first step. It is history that creates a basis of knowledge.”
Even though the field may not be that well known, there are a number of scholars in academia that concentrate their research on the history of accounting, which is, strangely enough, a relatively new field of study.
Perhaps even more ironic is the fact that the U.S., one of the world’s youngest countries, is a focal point for the field’s research and study. And Weatherhead is at the epicenter of it all.
“Case is one of the most important universities in the world when it comes to this topic. Gary Previts (Weatherhead Professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs) is one of the most well-known professors in this field,” adds Marinoni.
Understanding this country’s unique system of finance is fundamental for other countries, says Marinoni, due to the integration of U.S. culture in the global society.
This fact is not lost on Oktay Guvenli, another visiting scholar from Marmar University in Istanbul, Turkey. He and seven other scholars from Turkey came to Weatherhead in October of 2005 for the sole purpose of doing research and collecting data on accounting’s past.
“If I had not come to the U.S., much of my work would not have been possible. It was necessary to come here and be able to work at Case,” says Guvenil. “If you work on accounting history, you must come to the U.S.”
If you think that numbers are numbers and accounting is an international language, you might be surprised to find that different countries have different theories of accounting. In fact, there is a lot of history behind even a basic spreadsheet and the double entry system of accounting.
“For example, the Italian system is not a global system of accounting, because our economic situation is based on middle and small enterprises,” says Marinoni. “But the world changes and Italy is becoming more global and we must integrate these different ways of creating financial statements.”
Don’t let the terms “history” or “accounting” fool you; buried in the double entry books and centuries-old spreadsheets, political intrigue can be found.
“We have found that the accounting method of the (Turkish) state’s treasury was different from every day accounting, because the government didn’t want the people to be able to read and understand the balance sheet,” Guvenil says.
The work these scholars do at Weatherhead will be recognized internationally.
In 2008, the 12th Annual World Congress of Accounting Historians will meet in Istanbul, Turkey and both Guvenli and Marinoni are planning on presenting papers regarding their work at Case.
“There are five centuries of accounting to learn from,” says Guvenil, who is then quick to add that some of the oldest accounting records have been found in Turkey. “The Ottoman Empire has good documentation The Republic of Turkey may be small but there is a big story there.”
Guvenil must have been impressed with his time here at Weatherhead, because he is recommending the school to other important scholars.
“I am urging my son to come to Case to finish his degree,” says Guvenil. “I really want him to come here to finish his thesis in accounting at this school.”