From the Director

The first Harvard Business School case, a one-page document written by Clinton P. Biddle in 1921, describes a labor issue at a hypothetical shoe company, “General Shoe.” After outlining the factors to be weighed, Biddle poses the question, “What are the general policies with which these conditions should be remedied?” as a way of opening the class discussion about possible actions to address the issue. HBS cases have evolved since that time, through innovations in teaching and learning, but the core emphasis on decision making and addressing management problems through participant-centered learning, as reflected in “General Shoe,” continues today.

As part of the School-wide centennial celebration of the case method, Baker Library Special Collections is pleased to present, From Inquiry to Action: Harvard Business School & the Case Method, an exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the teaching practice.
Drawing from materials in the HBS Archives, the exhibition explores the introduction and development of the case method during the foundational decades of HBS, informing our understanding of how the teaching practice evolved and contributing to the current dialogue about the pedagogy looking forward. Covering a period of over 100 years, this vast topic is one we cannot fully address. We hope this exhibition, publication, and the accompanying website offer insights into the historical antecedents of this cornerstone of teaching and learning at HBS that has had such a profound impact on countless individuals and the global business community.

A great strength of Baker Library Special Collections is the vast holdings of the HBS Archives. Containing the records of HBS from its founding to the present, the Archives are a tremendous resource to learn about milestones in the School’s history, documenting not only pivotal moments and key decisions, but also the dialogue and debate that led to those decisions. In addition, our extensive collection of research and teaching papers of HBS faculty reveal the evolution and impact of business theory and education. Researchers can find the papers of seminal figures in the development of the case method at HBS, including Dean Wallace B. Donham and Professor C. Roland Christensen among others. Also contained in the HBS Archives are more than 50,000 HBS cases dating from the first cases published in the 1920s through to the early 2000s. The accompanying exhibit website includes an in-depth guide to the Archives and publications on the history of the case method at HBS that are available for research.

In preparing this exhibition, we have benefited from the guidance of faculty members and colleagues at HBS. We are profoundly grateful to Jan W. Rivkin, C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean, Chair, MBA Program. His careful review of the exhibition text and insight into the history of the case method were vital to our understanding. We greatly appreciate the support of V.G. Narayanan, Thomas D. Casserly Jr. Professor of Business Administration and Chair, MBA Elective Curriculum; and Cara Sterling, Managing Director, Administrative and Educational Affairs, Dean’s Office. As co-chairs of the Case Centennial Celebration, they have offered their expertise and time for which we are most grateful. We would like to thank Brian Kenny, HBS Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, and his team for their collaboration in developing the timeline celebrating 100 years of case method teaching and learning at HBS. 

This exhibition would not have been possible without the contributions of guest curator Melissa Banta and HBS Archivist Rachel Wise. They navigated the extensive holdings of the HBS Archives to tell this story with great skill and creativity, despite the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every exhibition is the result of teamwork within Baker Library Special Collections. My sincere thanks to the members of the exhibition team; each contributed in crucial ways to the success of this project.


Laura Linard
Senior Director, Baker Library Special Collections
Harvard Business School
March 2022

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