Professor Steven W. Tolliday

Professor Steven W. Tolliday

Professor of Economic and Social History

+44 (0)113 34 34474

Summary: 20th century Japanese economic history; Economic and social history of Britain and Europe since 1945; Business history; Labour history


On leave for 2010/11 academic year


I did my undergraduate degree in History at the University of Cambridge and returned there to write my PhD on the relationship between the banks and industry in interwar Britain. My first job was as a Research Officer at the London School of Economics researching the history of British trade unions. From there I moved to a Research Fellowship at King's College Cambridge where I continued work on the history of workers and shop-floor bargaining in the British automobile industry.

In 1984 I left Cambridge to take up a post as Senior Industrial Strategist in Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council, working on the GLC's London Industrial Strategy. The abolition of the GLC the following year put me out of a job! But in 1986 I won a Newcomen Research Fellowship at Harvard Business School and was able to work with Professor Alfred D. Chandler's Business History Research Group. The following year I became an assistant professor in the Business, Government and Competition area at HBS. At Harvard I began to teach and research Japanese economic history alongside my work on the business, economic and social history of the international automobile industry. I remained there until 1992 when I came to the University of Leeds as Professor of Economic and Social History. I am a past editor of the journal Business History Review and a founding editor and co-editor of Enterprise & Society (published by Oxford University Press since 2000). I am currently President-Elect of the Business History Conference, the US-based international professional association of business historians.

My interest in History arose from an interest in social justice and a desire to understand how societies work and what makes them change, together with the idea that good politics must be based on a proper historical understanding of the problems involved. In the 1970s and 1980s I was a national organiser of the campaign for the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland and since then I have continued to take an active interest in the defence of civil liberties and free speech. I am a member of Amnesty International and the Commission on Modern Liberty. Since my eyesight was saved by emergency surgery more than a dozen years ago I have taken a particular interest in charities providing eye operations in the Third World particularly Sight Savers. I play squash and am a keen cyclist and I try to spend a week each year cycling some of my favourite mountain stages of the Tour De France.

Research interests

My research interests range widely across business, economic and social history in the 20th century. My oldest research interest was in the relationship between banks and industry in inter-war Britain. I focused on the steel industry where banks lent lavishly to steel companies in the post-World War One boom, and then found themselves locked in as powerful creditors of struggling firms in the long downturn that followed. From the late 1920s the government and the Bank of England became concerned with extricating the banks from their entanglements and strengthening and stabilising the industry through rationalisation projects and co-ordinated quasi-cartel activities. The Bank supported numerous ambitious restructuring plans in the 1930s but were never able to exert the controlling influence that they sought and were often drawn into complicated and fraught relations with other bankers and industrial interests and ended up supporting big schemes in Scotland, Corby and Ebbw Vale that they knew were seriously flawed from the start. Many of the themes of the book Business, Banking and Politics suddenly seem intensely relevant once again in this age of banking failures and bail-outs!

From there my focus shifted to the business history of another major British industry: the car industry. Studying this industry forced me to focus centrally on issues of product strategy and labour management, and I wrote and published particularly on the history of shop-floor bargaining and trade union organisation in the industry (Between Fordism and Flexibility). I also widened my scope to look at the comparative history of labour management by studying the American, German and Japanese automobile industries (The Power to Manage? and Between Imitation and Innovation) and the history of American Multinational companies in Europe (Ford: The European History). In the course of this, in collaboration with Jonathan Zeitlin, I produced a series of studies critiquing many of the standard social science and business school theoretical approaches to the study of national systems of labour management and industrial relations. My interest in the Japanese automobile industry also proved to be a stepping off point for a wider teaching and research interest in Japanese economic, social and business history (The Economic Development of Modern Japan). I became interested in Japanese industrial supply networks and the relationship between large and small firms in automobiles and other industries and, in collaboration with Yasushi Yonemitsu, I also studied the micro-history of a Japanese ceramics industrial district ('Microfirms and industrial districts in Japan'). I am currently writing an economic and social history of Japan from the 1930s to the present day.   

Postgraduate Supervision

I am happy to supervise research MAs and PhDs in 20th century British business history and 20th century British economic and social history as well as in 20th century Japanese business, economic and social history. On Britain my specialities include the steel industry, the car industry, banking and industry and history of labour management and shop-floor organisation. I am also interested in a variety of social and cultural history areas including gender, welfare, literature and society, class and poverty. On Japan, my specialist knowledge particularly focuses on Japanese economic history, notably business and financial history.

Current students

Steve Parry - The History of Iron and Steel Making in Port Talbot Since 1900

Recent students

In recent years I have supervised three completed PhD theses on Japan. Shu-Chin Wang wrote her thesis on comparative industrial policy in Japan and Britain (1996); Junko Okanouchi studied the workings of internal labour markets in Japanese industry (2005) and Yasushi Yonemitsu wrote his thesis on the history of Japanese industrial districts (2006).


Undergraduate Modules

At Level One, I have taught in or co-ordinated 'The Modern World' (HIST 1210) for several years, introducing first-year students to the broad spectrum of modern historical studies available to students in the School of History.

At Level Two, I have focused on two major areas. 'Western Europe: From the Dictatorships to the European Union, 1930-1992' (HIST 2640) looks at the economic and social history of modern Europe in terms of broad patterns of economic and social development and though the development of comparative studies of different national systems. 'The Rise of Modern Japan: From the Meiji Restoration to the present day' (HIST 2645) introduces students to the fascinating and unfamiliar history of modern Japan through successive eras of modernisation and westernisation, imperialism and war, economic miracle, and 'bubble' and stagnation.

My Level Three Special Subject 'Empire, War and Occupation: The Transformation of Japan, 1930-1952' (HIST 3640) develops the study of Japan by using the lens of the American Occupation of Japan to open up the processes of change and transformation that paved the way for Japan's rise to become a great global economic power. The Occupation provides extensive English language primary sources for student dissertations and also provides an opportunity to use literature and film as sources to better understand social and cultural change in this period.

Outreach / Wider Community

I am available to comment to the media on issues in recent Japanese economic and social history. For example, see the following video-clip of a studio interview in October 2008 on the 'lessons' of Japan's 'great stagnation' since the 'Bubble economy':


I was also 'Historical Advisor' to a TV History Workshop series for Channel 4.  The book of the TV series, entitled Making Cars by Greg Lamming et. al., was published by Routledge, Kegan, Paul, 1985.

I have been involved in the editing and publication of leading international scholarly journals for over twenty years. I was the editor of Business History Review (published by Harvard Business School Press) from 1988 to 1993 and was a founding editor and co-editor of Enterprise & Society (published by Oxford University Press) from 1999 to 2007.

My scholarship has been recognised by various prizes. I was awarded the Wadsworth Prize for Business History in 1987 (awarded by the Business Archives Council for 'the outstanding contribution to the study of British business history in 1987'). In 1995 I received the Newcomen Prize for the best article published in Business History Review, and in 1998 I was awarded the Harold F. Williamson Memorial Prize and Medal for Outstanding Career Contribution to Business History, awarded by the Business History Society, Washington DC.

In 2009-10 I am the President-Elect of the Business History Conference, the US-based international professional association for business historians. I will become President at the March 2010 Conference in Athens, Georgia.