Lessons for the Present from the Past

Reflecting upon what I termed the "radical" definition of entrepreneurship of Schindehutte et al. led me to think that we’re not the first entrepreneurs on the planet, which led me to think of the history of entrepreneurship, which led me to think of the most radical professor I had as an undergraduate history major at Virginia Tech.

Maybe my other professors were involved in radical thinking and radical research, but the only one I remember telling his students about it was A. Roger Ekirch, a professor of American colonial history.  He was studying and teaching "The New History," focusing on what people were doing and thinking rather than what political leaders were doing and thinking.Ekirch_2  

I remember one of his lectures, probably 1979 or so, perhaps on the use of tools in Colonial America, and my asking him, "Yes, but what happened?"  I deserved the minus at the end of my A.  I thought so rigidly in those days.  [From left to right in photo:  Professor Crandall Shifflett, Anne Giles (Clelland), Professor A. Roger Ekirch, Virginia Tech Graduation, 1981]

I haven’t seen him since the early 80s, but I e-mailed him recently anyway and asked him about entrepreneurship.  I have his permission to quote him:

"I can think of no better discourse on upward mobility and entrepreneurship in the colonial era than Ben Franklin’s autobiography, which stresses ‘industry’ (hard-work in the 18th century sense); education, and making connections, or networking as we would call it. He did not, however, avail himself of one source of upward mobility, not uncommon among those seeking to better their fortunes, which was to ‘marry-up’!"

I felt great affection hearing Dr. Ekirch’s wit and wisdom again. 

And he’s still radical.  He’s written a highly praised history of the night. 

At Day’s Close:  Night in Times Past.  Radical.

Did your history professor see things in such innovative ways that he, in an entrepreneurial fashion, found a niche market and, created, in the words of Schindehutte et al., "new markets, new value, new goods"?  Did your history professor create "new worlds by reconstituting meaning"?

Mine did.

Thank you, Dr. Ekirch, for continuing to help me see my old thinking in new ways.


  1. I so appreciate my father's participation in online conversations:

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