I'm looking for books and articles that can elucidate how different legal business entities and types of corporate personhood came to be. I've already found the book “The Company: A Short History of a Legal Idea” by Micklethwait and Woolridge. Although this may be a good place to start, I'm concurrently searching for books that are somewhat more in-depth and academic. Furthermore, I'm also deeply interested in accounts that delve into the history of somewhat more 'alternative' business forms, like worker cooperatives, nonprofit organisations and not-for-profit businesses.

By the way, on Math SE and Mathoverflow (where I have more experience than on this SE page), this question would be categorized as “big-list”, a tag I can't find here. This means there may be multiple, equally 'correct' answers to this question.

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    The reason that there is no "big-list" tag is that we discourage questions that have list responses. We're looking for questions where we can clearly identify an authoritative answer. Which has led us to discourage reference requests, except in narrow circumstances. If you're willing, could you discuss "big-list" on meta? I'm not sure how "big list" fits into the way I understand the SE tagging system.
    – MCW
    Aug 2, 2020 at 12:19
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    law.SE might be able to help?
    – MCW
    Aug 2, 2020 at 12:20
  • Any particular time/place you are interested in?
    – Brian Z
    Aug 2, 2020 at 12:33
  • @MarkC.Wallace Alright, that's a pity. Different SE pages can apparently have considerably different tags and even types of questions that are (not) encouraged. Like I alluded to before, on MO/MSE it's common practice to have big-list questions. I'll start a discussion on Meta. Thanks for the law.SE suggestion, I will check it out
    – Max Muller
    Aug 2, 2020 at 15:58
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    @BrianZ mainly in the "modern" businesses, so say from 1500 onwards. I think the East India Company and the VOC have been pivotal for the way companies are structured, for instance, and I should know a thing or two about them. But if something very important happened in corporate history a century or two earlier, I'd like to have that included as well in the treatment. So 1500 is not a "hard" date
    – Max Muller
    Aug 2, 2020 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


There are massive bibliographies about the VOC alone (and countless other major companies), about international corporate governance, company law, the history of cooperatives and so on. I'm not aware of any historian who has tried to generalize about all of this for the modern period as a whole. Whether such a task is possible in any meaningful way is not clear to me.

The Legitimacy of the business corporation in the law of the United States, 1780-1970 by James Willard Hurst is already a rather ambitious work, based on a series lectures, but obviously specific to the United States. Name a country and you can probably find other nationally-specific studies of their corporate and or cooperative law, at least of article length. Cooperatives are typically dealt with as an entirely separate topic.

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