Enterprising York: Oral Histories of Business, Diversity, and Inclusion in a City of Heritage

Project: Research project (funded)Internal pump-priming

Project Details


Unlike larger cities in northern England, York’s business and management history has received very little scholarly attention. One problematic consequence is a lack of diversity and inclusion in our contemporary understanding of the city’s heritage. Archival documents at the Borthwick Institute for Archives and at York Explore Libraries provide insights into certain subjects, including mediaeval religious institutions and the influence of chocolate manufacturers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Yet archival collections documenting the enterprises that anchor York’s contemporary economic landscape are few and far between. Many voices and stories are thus absent from the community’s understanding of “heritage,” including those of female and immigrant entrepreneurs, retail and service industry workers, rural entrepreneurs tied to the York economy, and community-focused businesses and social enterprises promoting sustainable paths to economic development in a post-industrial York.

This project will involve a collaboration between business historians in the School for Business and Society and archivists at the Borthwick Institute to collect and make publicly available more diverse, inclusive, contemporary oral histories of business and enterprise in York. We will begin with two pilot projects. One will focus on cycling businesses in York that have promoted sustainable, accessible local transport (Cycle Heaven and Get Cycling). The other focuses on the York Cattle Market and its post-1970s exurban replacement, the York Auction Centre, to consider the historical economic and environmental relationship between the city and its rural hinterland. We would then seek funding to collect additional oral histories of enterprises that have contributed to York in ways that are not often represented in existing ideas of heritage, including ethnic restaurants, women-owned business, and social enterprises.

The oral histories will be used to support existing academic publication projects by members of the research team, but (in line with participants’ wishes) will also be made available for the wider public and for University of York students. The project will thus simultaneously contribute to the University strategy of serving the local public good; the School for Business and Society’s research themes in sustainable, diverse, and inclusive enterprise; and the teaching needs of multiple departments including SBS, History, English & Related Literature, and Archaeology.
Short titleEnterprising York
Effective start/end date30/03/2329/06/26