Hansegeschichte als Organisationsgeschichte versus Hansegeschichte als Wirtschaftsgeschichte
Anregungen für eine diskussionsfähige Hanseforschung
Hanseatic history – organizational history or economic history? Some thoughts on embedding Hanseatic research in international research strands. This article is concerned with the broader framework within which Hanseatic research is conducted. It is my contention that Hanseatic historians could sharpen their focus and attain more profound insights if they decided whether to conduct organizational studies or pursue economic history. It is not possible to do both simultaneously. Organizational and economic research not only work with different models which have theoretical underpinnings distinct from one another, they also pursue different agendas: Organizational research investigates the structures, processes and transformations of an organization, in order to answer the question: Why and how did a particular organization survive? Economic history, by contrast, studies the structures, processes and transformations of economic regions or systems, as well as the actions and motives of economic agents, notably employing efficiency as a criterion for judging those actions. At the moment, Hanseatic research tends to treat both questions indiscriminately and to assume that the stability or longevity of an organization suffices to demonstrate its efficiency. However, as recent developments in organizational research show, an inefficient organization can survive for a surprisingly long time. We must therefore study both criteria – longevity and efficiency – separately.
Part one of the article suggests avenues for future research on Hanseatic history within the broader framework of organizational studies. Current research presents a working definition of an organization as an institution that gained legitimacy and identity. While it is not useful to regard “the Hanse” as a whole (whatever that might have been) as an organization, the Kontors, the town councils and probably the circle of friends of Hanseatic merchants can indeed be regarded as organizations. Part two takes a closer look at Hanseatic merchants, evaluating their success as economic actors. Three questions have to be clarified if Hanseatic historians want to discuss their findings with other economic historians: First, how do we measure ‘success’? Second, whom do we regard as a ‘Hanseatic merchant’? And third, why would it be interesting for economic historians to know whether or not Hanseatic merchants were successful? The article thus hopes to pave the way for the re-connection of Hanseatic research to broader research fields.