Using History in the Creation of Organizational Identity

Mike Zundel, Robin Holt, Andrew Popp

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Organizations frequently draw on history as a resource, for instance when attempting to establish or maintain identity claims. However, little has been done to review the advantages and problems of such use of history and it is not clear how using history impacts on the appreciation of history itself and, ultimately, on the insights that may be gained when engaging with the past. To begin to address these questions we distinguish two related uses of history as a resource for organizational identity: as a means of committing external audiences and, as a way of finding inward commitment. We theorize these two uses by drawing on speech act theory to develop a taxonomy of uses of history and to elaborate the opportunities and challenges that come when historical narratives are fashioned in the service of identity. We conclude with a further insight gained from speech act theory that suggests an engagement with history that requires sensitivity to prevailing conventions at the moment of these historical acts. We argue that appreciation of asynchronous historical conditions and contexts affords new insights through the difference these pose to current and instrumental concerns that otherwise guide the fashioning and interpretation of historical ‘facts.’
Original languageEnglish
JournalManagement & Organizational History
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)211-235
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • History
  • Organizational identity
  • Speech act theory

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