In their recent paper in Critical Perspectives on Accounting (2003) Arnold and McCartney have uncovered a disturbing number of errors and examples of poor scholarship by accounting historians investigating 19th century British railway accounting. They suggest that these are the consequence of accounting historians uncritically relying upon the work of others without undertaking the more arduous task of returning to original materials (p. 249). The not inconsiderable failings that Arnold and McCartney identify in 19th century railway accounting histories are so egregious that they feel justified in concluding that “there is no reason to believe that the area examined should be unique or even atypical” in the remainder of accounting history (p. 250). There must lurk throughout accounting history a multitude of as yet undiscovered evidential flaws which continue to delude accounting historians and corrode the value of their work. This throws into doubt the merits of not only 19th century railway accounting research but possibly the value of most of the corpus of accounting history scholarship, thereby leading to the suggestion by Arnold and McCartney that “in some cases” accounting history “provides little more than plausible anecdotes” (p. 228).
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