Commissioning a Company History, Oral History or Research Project

When companies reach significant anniversaries or landmarks in their history they can commemorate it with a publication or anniversary event to engage their employees, stakeholders, or customers. There are many different types of history – from website timeline or storyline, through to glossy brochure and academic tome. History can also be captured more informally through oral history projects where company employees are invited to record their experiences of working life.

Company directors and communications/PR teams will have an idea what works best for your company. There are a number of options:

1. PR company (or in-house team)

If you are confident that you have the sources available to tell the story – and you can interpret them – then a PR company will be able to pull the story together and design website content, glossy brochure, leaflet or short publication. An in-house archivist or consultant research archivist can ensure accuracy and integrity of ‘history’ text.

2. Consultant archivist

Freelance archivists can be employed on a short-term contract to research the company’s archive and create a ‘coffee-table’ history that will not include in-depth analysis but will be accurate and informative and communicate the messages your company wants to deliver. To contact potential freelancers you can use the professional listserv that acts as a forum and interest group for the profession. Alternatively there are a number of companies, originating in the USA, that are beginning to operate in the UK offering a portfolio of history services – from creating publications to using company history as an internal commercial tool. For further information see The History Factory, Winthrop Group and History Associates websites at:

To contact potential freelancers you can use the professional listserv that acts as a forum and interest group for the profession.

3. Academic historian

There are many academic historians with an interest in business and economic history. Their expertise will deliver authoritative in-depth analysis of a business and its sector, and the resulting history can be of great value to the company on many levels. There is no formal process for finding an appropriate academic, but universities have management and history schools that employ business historians and Glasgow University and London School of Economics, in particular, have specialist business history units. See Glasgow University Centre for Business History at and LSE Department of Economic History at For impartial advice on commissioning a business history please contact the Business Archives Council at For further information about the work of business historians contact the Association of Business Historians at

4. Oral historian

Oral historians are interested in the spoken reminiscences of company employees giving first-hand accounts of working life, rather than the more official historical accounts that are abstracted from company records.
Oral history projects are a great way to engage ex-employees and pensioners, and allow current employees to learn about how the company operated at personal and cultural level. They can also be used for advertising and PR, induction programmes and more specifically to capture key events in company history including response to external events or trends. National Life Stories, the oral history project charity based at the British Library Sound Archive has undertaken a number of corporate oral history projects including: London’s Square Mile in City Lives, the Post Office, brand consultancy Wolff Olins and the traditional industries of oil and steel. For information go to National Life Stories and Oral history projects are also conducted by company archivists or independent oral historians. For advice and information on oral history practice, methodology and training, visit the Oral History Society website at