Business History Call for Papers

Special Issue - Health Industries in the Twentieth Century

Business History

Today, health expenses amount at about 8-15% of GDP in most of OECD countries, while it was only 1-2% around 1900 (OECD). Health industries are one of the cornerstones of the welfare system, and the regulation of market access to their products and services, a major battlefield in the political debates in OECD countries. Yet, although health has become a fast-growing sector of our economies, the foundations of the welfare system, and one the major reasons about the progress in the Human Development Index in the world during the twentieth century, very little is known about the conditions of the transformation of the Health Industries, from small local personal services into a big globalized high-tech business. The heterogeneous nature of Health Industries and Services may be part of the reason that account for the relative scarcity of studies about them in a historical perspective.

In the specialized literature, there is a clear divide between, on the one hand, approaches from Health Economics, tackling current problems (e.g. growing costs, organization of the health market, role of insurances, and financial impact of new technology) with little if any historical perspective. And, on the other hand from the History of Medicine and Health more focused on social, cultural and gender issues (e.g. personal experiences of patients, professionalization of nurses, social control through health policies).

Hence, the objective of this special issue is to contribute with a longitudinal, business history approach, to the analysis and understanding about the construction of health industries and services throughout the world since the 1900s. This volume will illustrate the role of path dependence and the diversity of models followed in different countries by which health was transformed, from local services, into a fast-growing business. Second, the articles to be included in the special issue will also emphasize the impact of the diverse institutional frameworks that contributed to define national health systems. Third, this special issue aims to shed new light about the emergence of new therapeutic agents and new frames of care and culture, and the influence of new actors and changing organizations.

This volume builds on a rich and diversified literature in the history of Medicine, Pharmacy, and in general Science and Technology affecting health. Numerous works have examined particular aspects of this transformation, but none has offered so far an inclusive perspective that establishes a dialogue of the diverse factors that have had and have a key role in the construction of our national health systems: institutions, medical technology, and private companies. The most relevant literature can be classified in three major fields. First, the history of the organization and the funding of health systems (Rosner 1982, Stevens 1999, Labish & Spree 2001, Veronelli & Veronelli 2004, Gorsky & Sheard 2006, Domin 2008). These Business History - Call for Papers for a Special Issue "Health Industries in the Twentieth Century” works emphasized the evolution of the funding structure of hospitals, with the involvement of the State and insurances, the role of local communities, and the decline of philanthropy and charity in the Western world. However, they lack a focus on new medical technology and the action of private companies, so important in the case of the diverse Japanese and US experiences. Second, publications in the history of medical technology have shed light on the process of innovation in Health and Medicine, and shown the role of social networks in the diffusion of new technology (Löwy 1993, Howell 1995, Stanton 2002, Schlich 2002, Boersma 2003). Yet, these works don’t have business and economic perspectives of analysis, and do not take into account the role of enterprises and market’s structure. Third, the pharmaceutical industry has attracted several researches in a business history approach (Vagelos & Galambos 2004, Chandler 2005, Cramer 2015, Malerba and Orsenigo 2015). They follow a perspective which analyses competitiveness of firms in relation to organizational capabilities, industrial organization, and markets. The organization of health systems and the interactions with other actors within them (governments, insurance companies, and medical doctors) are usually not considered as a determinant of change, as our special issue aims to contribute.

Submission instructions

This special issue aims at contributing with original interdisciplinary theoretical analysis, and empirical evidences, to our current knowledge about the historical construction of the health industries and the businesses of health in a diverse typology of contexts, regulations, and national settings. Articles should be based on original research and/or innovative analysis and should not be under consideration by another journal. All articles should be submitted by May 31 2017 via ScholarOne using the URL link listed below, clearly indicating that they are for the Special Issue on Health Industries in the Twentieth Century. All the articles will be peer reviewed and, therefore, some may be rejected. Authors should ensure that their manuscripts fully comply with the formatting regulations of Business History.

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Editorial information

  • Guest Editor: Pierre-Yves Donzé, Osaka University, Japan (
  • Guest Editor: Paloma Fernández Pérez, Universitat de Barcelona, Spain