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Mercantile accounting in 15th century Venice: the ledger of Alvise Michiel (1570-1582) - Investigating the 15th century ledger of the Venetian merchant Alvise Michiel (1470-1482)


Project Description

Modern accounting began with the emergence of double entry bookkeeping in banks in 13th century Italy. It then spread to commerce and slowly became the method used across the country. By the mid-15th century, it had matured to the point that most Italian international merchants, wholesale merchants, and Governments used the method, along with some smaller merchants, monasteries, convents, palaces, and households. This project presents an opportunity to make a major contribution to the history of accounting in the period before the first manual on this topic was published in 1494.

After its emergence, the method of bookkeeping by double entry was characterised by regional variants, not just in how the entries were made, but in the books used in the double entry system. It was only after Luca Pacioli printed a manual in 1494 describing how to maintain account books in double entry using the Venetian system that the accounting system and the double entry method began a process of standardisation. Over the next 150 years, other manuals were printed following the same approach, both in Italy and elsewhere and gradually the Venetian method described by Pacioli became the international standard for books of account

However, very few examples exist of Venetian accounting before Pacioli’s manual was printed. This raises doubts as to whether Pacioli’s Venetian method was something he set down as a normative, or ideal description of how account books should be kept rather than a description of actual mercantile practice

This PhD project will seek to address this issue by investigating the 15th century ledger of the Venetian merchant Alvise Michiel (1470-1482) – the nature of the business that it presents, the manner in which business is conducted, the network of actors present in the ledger and, primarily the method of bookkeeping used. As part of this project, the method of bookkeeping used in the ledger will be compared to those of three other 15th century Venetian merchants: the Soranzo Fraterna (1406-1434) Andrea Barbarigo (1418-1449), and Jachomo Badoer (1436-1440); and to the bookkeeping manuals of Marino di Raphaeli (1475) and Luca Pacioli (1494).

Ability in Italian would be an advantage, but is not essential. Acquiring sufficient knowledge of the language will form part of the background activity supporting this project. The research is qualitative, archival, and founded in hermeneutic analysis. Training in the use of this method will be given as part of this project.

It is anticipated that some time will be spent in Italian archives during the second year of this project, providing an opportunity to gather an appreciation of the context of this study.

Applicants interested in this research project should submit a more detailed research proposal (of a maximum of 2000 words)

Funding Notes

This project is funded by a University of Aberdeen Elphinstone Scholarship. An Elphinstone Scholarship covers the cost of tuition fees, whether Home, EU or Overseas. Selection will be made on the basis of academic merit.

Related Subjects

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 13.30

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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