Introduction: Why Study Accounting History?
Unlike most other modern professions, accounting has a history which is usually discussed in terms of
one seminal event, the invention and dissemination of the double-entry bookkeeping processes. But a
view of accounting history that looks first at
overlooks a long evolution of accounting
ancient and medieval
More fundamentally, why should we care about the history of accounting at all? Certainly a glimpse
back in this area helps illuminate our past generally, and it is the sort of winding, twisted path that makes
an entertaining story. Perhaps the most compelling reason, however, is to help explain the phenomenal
growth that the profession of accountancy has enjoyed worldwide since the first royal charters were
granted to the Society of Accountants in Edinburgh less than 150 years ago.
In 1904, fifty years after the emergence of the formal profession as chartered accountants, about six
thousand practitioners carried this title. In 1957, there were 38,690 chartered and incorporated
accountants (Scottish, British and Irish). Today, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and
Wales alone has a membership of over 109,000 worldwide. This is to say nothing of the many
professionals in the other allied institutes in
, and American certified public accountants - comprising a vast worldwide network of professional
accountancy dominated by several mammoth worldwide accounting firms.
How and why did this relatively new profession develop? Its history is that of human commerce, and
even more fundamentally, of writing and the use of numbers and counting.
Some argue that accounting developed purely in response to the needs of the time brought about by
changes in the environment and societal demands. Others claim that the development of the science of
accounting has itself driven the evolution of commerce, since it was only through the use of more precise
accounting methods that modern business was able to grow, flourish and respond to the needs of its
owners and the public.
Either way, the history of accounting throws light on economic and business history generally, and
may help us better predict what is on the horizon as the pace of global business evolution escalates.
Obviously this presentation is only a glancing blow at a subject whose complete bibliography would
itself be massive. It was undertaken as an educational project of
ACAUS, the Association of Chartered
Accountants in the U.S.
, because there were so few online resources available on accounting history as
1999 began. It is intended only as a brief introduction, to whet the appetite for a more in-depth look that
more reading can provide. See the
of this "virtual history" for a small collection of some good
books on the subject, as well as a history selection from the ACAUS Bookstore.
Ancient Accounting: Dawn Of Man Through Pacioli