Coping with Excess
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Coping with Excess

How Organizations, Communities and Individuals Manage Overflows

Edited by Barbara Czarniawska and Orvar Löfgren

What does a stockbroker in Istanbul navigating the rush of incoming trading figures have in common with a mother in Stockholm trying to organize a growing pile of baby clothes? They are both coping with excess or overflow. This book explores the ways in which institutions, corporations and individuals define and manage situations of ‘too much’ – too much information, too many choices, too many commodities or too many tasks.
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Chapter 13: Lost in the archive: the business historian in distress

Susanna Fellman and Andrew Popp


Perhaps the most commented upon example of overflow in contemporary society is in relation to information. Informational overload is often associated with our own digital era but the proliferation of information as a key marker of modernity was presaged in and led by the industrial revolutions of the nineteenth century and the giant corporations to which those revolutions gave birth. In Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management (1989), JoAnne Yates traced how firms in key industries, such as services, transport, utilities and manufacturing, were enabled in their growth by new densities, volumes, genres and technologies of information (and its communication) that knitted together and coordinated organizations of unparalleled scale, scope, complexity and ambition. Information, produced and made increasingly storable and retrievable by a dizzying onrush of technological change and development, itself became a key technology. Corporations were to an extent defined and made (or broken) by their control (or lack of it) over information. But this proliferation of information has a dark side. As a manager once reported to one of the current authors, ‘I am swamped in information but starved of data.’ Mixing metaphors of both surfeit and dearth, this is a powerful image of a peculiarly modern condition; the possibility of knowing too much. Is this a condition that might afflict the historian – especially the historians of those very corporations?In historical research, scarcity of empirical sources and archival material is the most common problem.

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