For decades German business history not only took place in the shadow of economic history, but its value and its methods were sometimes questioned by economic and other historians. However, during the 1990s, there came a remarkable change. It is illustrated by the fact that outstanding and highly respected general historians, such as Lothar Gall, president of the Historiker-Verband (Germany's history association), who previously had rarely taken an interest in economic history, suddenly declared their commitment to business history. Writing business history became not only respected but, as new questions arose regarding how to approach it — particularly in light of political pressure on firms whose behavior was questioned during the Nazi period — a challenge.
In this context both terms, “German” and “business history,” need definitions. “German” is used in the widest sense: It encompasses the German-speaking part of the world, which includes Austria and two-thirds of Switzerland. The reasons for using this term are not only the common language and an exchange of personnel, but a couple of common institutions as well. For example, scholars of all German-speaking states take part in the Verein für Socialpolitik, founded by Gustav Schmoller in 1872; all institutes, organizations, and persons of the German-speaking region are included in one single vademekum, a central reference book for historical researchers. However, in spite of a fairly regular exchange of representatives, distinctions remain between the historical communities of the three states, which imply deficits of information, especially between Switzerland and Germany.