Wm. Baker Flowers
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA
BIOGRAPHY AND ACCOUNTING HISTORY
Special areas of historical research are manifold. Historians can elect to study a specific period, a school of thought or a personality. The latter area and its relationship to gaining the fullest apprecia-tion of the past is the topic of this essay.
It may be a distinct failing of accountancy to be rather uncon-cerned about its history, and perhaps more so about attempting to preserve the essential records about the human beings who created our present condition. It is the purpose of the biographer to forge these "living links"—to capture the personality, habits, and the role of a person in the interacting environment of an age so that we can trace the events, ideas and institutions of the period to the important human elements.
Norman E. Webster, a twentieth century historian of American professional accounting, felt "that every lasting institution is the lengthened shadow of a person." History, to him, was "the story of the lives of persons in the form of associations and societies." The question that faces the biographer is: "What formed the per-son?"
Often an exceptional person acquires a "public personality," which is perpetuated through stories. The person is usually known for the positions attained or because of a list of notable achieve-ments. As time passes the stories become subordinated to the list of achievements. The further passage of time diminishes the value of even the achievements until finally the personality is only remem-bered by a short biographical sketch and a dated list of accomplish-ments. When such record of a distinguished personality is all that remains, the character and personality of this exceptional person, along with his aims and motivations, are all but lost.
Biography acts to sharpen the perceptions about the subject area under study. Why and how the person acted becomes more mean-ingful as does the appreciation for the entire environment in which the subject lived.
How, for instance, can anyone claim to be a student of English history without knowing the biographies of the Tudor family? Six-