The corporate charters project

The corporation has a commanding presence in today's world. In power, wealth, and geographic reach, the only rivals of the largest corporations are national governments—and then only the largest of them. But we know surprisingly little about the history of the corporation—least of all about how corporations once governed themselves or about variations in corporate governance across countries. When I published my first article on shareholder voting rights in 1998, the corporation—as a distinctive legal entity—was not on the mental landscape of historians. More often than not, the word corporation was used as a euphemism for "big business." In the last decade or so, this has begun to change, and historians, particularly those working on the U.S. and the U.K., are now digging deep into their history. (To sample the literature, click Readings on the main menu, then the "On corporations" tab.)

To encourage research on the history of the corporation and to inform the interested browser, this section of my website provides a gateway into the history of the corporation. Its centerpiece will be a database of nearly 10,000 corporate charters granted by the American states, Britain, France, and the German states between 1825 and 1870. This research provides the basis for a book that I am writing (Shareholder Democracy—go to Home - About Prof. D. on the main menu, then click the Current Projects tab). The database will be available for public use as soon as I have finished the book manuscript and can get the database up and running on the Web. In the meantime, feel free to browse the other Corporations links for more information about it.

This project would not have been possible without generous funding from the University of Wisconsin Graduate School, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University. I am grateful to all of them for their support (and their patience).