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Spotlight on Historical Collections

Marquis Studies Evolution of U.S. Banking

Published: 03/15/2006

Christopher Marquis, a sociologist who studies the development of the U.S. banking industry, arrived at HBS armed with banking statistics from all fifty states. But a crucial element for his research was lacking: written material to offer insights into why and how U.S. banking evolved as it did between 1896 and 2001.

That's when he discovered Baker Library's Historical Collections and its wealth of reports, debate minutes, and ephemera. Marquis, who began poring through Historical Collections only recently, is amazed at the wealth of material on paper and in microform to support his research.

"Thanks to this, I can work with micro-level data on activities, and make use of unguarded statements regarding the banks' positions on laws and their lobbying activities," says Marquis. "Historical Collections has reports, proceedings, and minutes from conferences of bankers at the state, regional, and national level. I am able to read the debate on various issues" and ultimately observe what he calls a circular co-evolution over time: laws clearly influenced the industry structure of banks, but banks also actively worked to influence the laws that governed them.

Marquis, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior unit, was trained in quantitative analysis. Baker's contribution to his research is written material on national and state-level meetings of bankers. "I have been able to quantitatively test my hypotheses, but the historical data is helping me ground the statistics by uncovering finer-grain discussions between bankers."

In his dissertation, Marquis studied how the banking industry changed considerably during the twentieth century. For most of the past hundred years, the majority of banks were small, local, and closely woven into community life. "Beginning in the 1980s, many of the earlier geographic constraints and restrictions on function began to fall. U.S. banks began to branch out nationally, and they developed into financial conglomerates. . . . The implications of these historical changes for the social role of banks have been a source of continuing controversy among sociologists," who ask whether banks wield a disproportionate amount of power in business and society—a topic very relevant for today.

How laws and banking interrelate is a rich area for further research, and Marquis, who feels lucky to make use of Historical Collections' resources, hopes that one day his work will result in a book.

Contact: Historical Collections

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