Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The chapter analyses key themes and debates in the history of bookkeeping within a broadly
chronological arrangement, starting with Classical Greece and Rome and continuing with
sections on the Roman legacy, West and East, developments in the Islamic world, medieval
charge and discharge accounting, mercantile accounting, the origins of double-entry, early
industry and the Victorian expansion during the nineteenth century. The aim of the chapter is
to embed developments in bookkeeping practice within their social and economic contexts.
Tracking rights and obligations, holding agents accountable, conveying information at
a distance, dealing with complexity and acting as a legal record are identified as the recurrent
functions of bookkeeping throughout its history. Changes in practice were prompted by
a diverse range of factors, including economic opportunity, political and religious pressure,
conquest, educational developments and the influence of significant individuals.
Since the original version of the chapter was published in 2009 there has been a resurgence
of interest in the history of bookkeeping practice, including volumes appealing to a wider, nonspecialist
audience as well as academics (e.g. Gleeson-White 2012; Soll 2014). The history of
bookkeeping is huge, and to give the chapter focus the modus operandi is to concentrate mainly
on Western Europe with particular reference to Italy and the British Isles. Italian practice is
significant because of the dual legacy of the Classical world and the Renaissance. Britain too is
important because of the links forged through trade and colonisation, and especially its close
connections with North America. However, the complexity of trade relations, the continuation
of Roman traditions under the Byzantine emperors until 1453 and the conquest of much of the
former Roman Empire by Islam mean that bookkeeping developments within the Middle East
and beyond are of necessary concern to accounting historians. The relative neglect of the East
by Western historians has been censured (Frankopan 1988; Goody 2002), and although space
restricts what can be covered, a key expansion of this chapter is to move beyond the existing
Western Euro-focus to include significant developments in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Unfortunately, space constraints prevent a fuller examination of a number of geographic
areas with important bookkeeping histories, including South America before the arrival of
Europeans, Russia, the Persian Empire, China, India, Japan and a range of other Asian,
European and African cultures. In China, for example, the history of accounting is said to
9780815375869C05.3D 103 [102–135] 10.2.2020 3:55PM
extend back 6,000 years. During the Western Zhou period (1100–771 BC) it is claimed that
accounting reached ‘a peak of sophistication unknown elsewhere in the world’. Under the
Tand dynasty (AD 618–907) the Bi-Bu auditing system was developed. Government
accounting was refined during the Song dynasty (960–1279) (Lu and Aiken 2003, 2004);
and the Lóngmén Zhàng system has been claimed to be an early example of commercial
double-entry bookkeeping, although this view has been challenged (Lin 1992; Peng and
Brown 2015; Yuan and Macve 2017).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Accounting History
EditorsJohn Richard Edwards, Stephen P Walker
Place of PublicationAbingdon and New York
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-351-23888-5
ISBN (Print)978-0-8153-7586-9
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2020

Publication series

NameRoutledge Companions in Business, Management and Accounting


  • Bookeeping, Accounting History


Dive into the research topics of 'Bookkeeping'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this