Anglo-American and Hungarian economic historians follow different semantic patterns describing the same subjects. While the authors writing in English use three distinct terms to signify business history, entrepreneurship and the theory of the firm, the corresponding Hungarian words share a common root. This paper reviews the debates among the founding fathers of the discipline about how to define the agenda and methods of researching these topics both before and after World War II. The emergence of business history at Harvard Business School under the leadership of N. Gras mainly followed the German tradition of narrative historical economics. He denied any dominant role of formal economic theory and urged business historians to use several other disciplines (psychology, politics) too. The founder of Research Center in Entrepreneurial History at Harvard, A. Cole based the approach of his research group on the Schumpeterian concept of creative entrepreneur as the key figure in explaining the different issues of economic change and development. Faced with the problem how to identify what is entrepreneurship, the Center failed to formulate a theory of economic change based on entrepreneurial activity and behaviour. In the meantime the character of creative entrepreneur have been played down within organization and firm and was substituted by the entrepreneur co-ordinator (R. Coase) who directs production and by the middle-manager (A. Chandler). Both the business history using structuralist-functionalist sociological approach in discussing large scale enterprises and the theory of firm based on transactions costs and economic analysis of law remain outside of the mainstream of history and economics. What they had in common was a sense of affinity for empirical data instead of pure theory. Even it was more than affinity, it was a desire to get insight of the "real world".
history of economic thought entrepreneurship theory of the firm business history J. Schumpeter A. Chandler R. Coase