By Dark Angels

Lessons from some of the world's oldest companies

Thursday, 21 July 2016


Dark Angels is a tiny organisation of writers. We were 'established in 2004', just a blink away in historical time. So why are we writing this book about the world's oldest companies? Perhaps it has something to do with a writer's relationship with history, a belief that writers can be the best connections between history and a story.

Since Dark Angels was founded, here are some events that were memorable in each of the subsequent years:

2004 - Facebook started

2005 - Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, wins third successive UK election

2006 - US President Bush greets his ally with "Yo Blair!"

2007 - Australian drought causes wheat crops to fail

2008 - Global financial crisis - bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers

2009 - Barack Obama inaugurated as US President

2010 - Chilean miners rescued after 69 days

2011 - Osama Bin Laden killed - and Colonel Gaddafi

2012 - Olympic Games held in London

2013 - Nelson Mandela died

2014 - Russia annexes Crimea

2015 - Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris.

It's a very partial list, inevitably. Some of those events might have passed you by at the time - how many of us noticed Facebook in 2004? But many of those events trigger a memory that can be vivid and emotional - when I think of Nelson Mandela, for example.

When we think of this current year, it seems that history is accelerating. So much has happened, it's hard to keep up. A lot of it not welcome - too many good people have died. But history provides a perspective, and a longer view is useful. With 'Established' we take a longer view and we try to make sense of companies founded in medieval times that are still thriving in the age of Facebook.

The broad sweep of history and individual stories of people need to be seen together. History - those events that get recorded and remembered - is the background against which we understand the lives and actions of individuals. History and stories are interwoven at their best.

What happens, against this background of history, is that we draw on the whole range of emotions through the individual stories told. Joy, fear, anger, love, determination, obsession, elation, grief. It's the universal emotions that connect these stories to our times and ourselves. And, if we're wise, we learn from them.

John Simmons writes the chapter on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (est. 1570) in 'Established'.

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Gillian Colhoun
 Gillian Colhoun says:

Always loved that 'story' is the largest part of the word history.

posted 22nd July 2016

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