Corporations, non-profits, public agencies, and other organizations are recognizing the value in researching, and subsequently leveraging, their histories. Making connections with the past can provide insight into organizational behavior and culture, and inform the making of strategic and operational decisions. The products of a high-quality historical investigation also can be useful in steeping new and existing staff in the culture of an organization, and in educating customers, communities, and public policy makers about its activities and their value. In short, applied history can help organizations perform more effectively and become better understood.
Historically based investigations vary in form and scope. Projects typically begin with an assessment of the availability of internal records. Materials identified as relevant to the project are organized and archived, with the assistance of a professional archivist, if the volume calls for it. Interviews of people inside and outside of the organization, transcribed and perhaps videotaped, also help to build the foundation for historical analysis. External material found in archives and in published sources provides critical context for assessing organizational behavior.
Oral history interviews, to be sure, may stand alone as end products. Indeed, they may be made available to wider audiences by posting them on academic or professional Web sites. The site of the Regional Oral History Office of the Bancroft Library, for instance, provides an outstanding example of the potential benefits of making collections available to wider audiences.
The development of internal and external historical sources, which may be textual, photographic, or oral in nature, enables the organization to execute projects that can improve the effectiveness of management, marketing, human resources, operations: indeed, any activity that affects performance.
The deliverables of projects may be strictly internal, such as strategic planning or business development memoranda and reports, training manuals, and the like. By publishing a scholarly history, a popular history linked to an anniversary or other milestone, an exhibit, oral history collection, or timeline on the Web, however, the organization has the opportunity to tell customers, professional colleagues, former employees, scholars, reporters, and others about its role in society and the economy.