Meta post #3: historical context

When the media reported on the failure of the Thomas Cook travel company in 2019, I saw a spike in page views for my history of the business.

The quality of business news in British broadsheets is generally very good. However what journalists often overlook is the historical context of huge events such as when a business enters into administration.

Just look at when Stead & Simpson, one of the largest shoe retailers in Britain, entered into administration in 2008. Nobody reported that the 174 year old business had once been the largest footwear manufacturer in the world. This was information that a busy journalist, working to a deadline, simply does not have the time to find out. So the story was reported as a high street misfortune, rather than as the culmination of a slow and steady decline for a once huge and influential business.

Stead & Simpson was not just another high street brand; it had historically employed thousands of people, and the Gee family, who controlled the company in the early twentieth century, played an influential role in the establishment of the University of Leicester.

Stead & Simpson represented a rare survivor of the once-vast East Midlands shoe-making industry, and had managed to avoid being swallowed up by the J Sears & Co business that came to control much of British shoe retailing in the mid to late twentieth century.

I would argue that a greater awareness of historical context helps us to better understand the future and the present, as well as the past.

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