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Americanisation in 20th Century Europe: business, culture, politics. Volume 2

Nick Tiratsoo
Mathias Kipping


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1Culture Matters! How Values shape Human Progress” is the title of a volume edited in 2000 by Samuel P. Huntington and Lawrence E. Harrison to which some of the worlds best known economists, such as Francis Fukuyama, Michael E. Porter and Jeffrey Sachs, contributed. Yes, culture matters, but the questions how, when, why etc. remain to be tackled. The concept of Americanisation reduces the problem to manageable proportions. Economic Americanisation - the transfer of American values through a process of selection and adaptation to local circumstances is the focus of our two volumes. Because of selection and adaptation Americanisation does not mean that Europeans started to behave like Americans in every respect; our question is more subtle, it is about influence, about a Leitbild and its radiation over time.

2In the history of technology it is an established fact that any transfer of Systems entails a transfer of values, since the ideas of the System, how it is to be used etc., are deeply entrenched in culture. Similarities are discovered in economic history. These two volumes show that institutions are bound to culture: how to manage a company (e.g. Taylorism), how to distribute goods (e.g. self-service), how to organise advice (consultancies) or monitor the market or organise the flow of goods and information within a firm or on a large building site are all issues that reliy on often unspoken choices, decisions based on cultural preferences. Our two books come up with lots of evidence on how new Systems were taken from the USA, and, after a process of selection and adaptation, applied to local circumstances in Europe. Other continents were affected too, of course. Such information is to be obtained from other books, which, like this one, serve as a preparation for the Business History Congress in Buenos Aires. For the purpose of organisation and focus, the first volume, edited by Dominique Barjot, Isabelle Lescent-Giles and Marc de Ferriere le Vayer, collects contributions on macroeconomic events, while the second, edited by Matthias Kipping and Nick Tiratsoo, comprehends Americanisation at the business level.

3The start of Americanisation lies well before the First World War and was at that time noticed only exceptionally. It became strong during the 1920s, faded away in the 1930s, but came back in full swing after 1945. Again it petered out in the 1970s, while during the second half of the 1980s and the 1990s it re-gathered ground. We thus have an astonishing up-and-down over the whole century. Apparently the upswings coincided with economic, political and military power, but the reasons for such swings are one of the questions which our evidence details.

4Last but not least we want to thank all the people who were engaged in the production process of the two volumes. These are besides the editors, our magician organisers Isabelle Lescent-Gilles, Marc de Ferriere and all the numerous staff, particularly Martine Aubry, who are required to turn out this kind of two-volume edition.

© Publications de l’Institut de recherches historiques du Septentrion, 2002

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