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AC4537: ACCOUNTING HISTORY (2021-2022)

Last modified: 31 May 2022 13:05

Course Overview

Is knowing the history of accounting useful? Would it make it easier to be an accountant? Would you understand business better? Would you be a better accountant? “Yes”. This course will show you why. In accounting history, we strip back the façade that surrounds accounting. Revealed are the business-driven needs and the financial reporting needs that led us to where accounting is today. You will understand why what accountants do is indispensable, from perspectives only history can bring.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 4
Session Second Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus Aberdeen Sustained Study No
  • Professor Alan Sangster

What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

  • Programme Level 4
  • Any Undergraduate Programme
  • Accountancy (AC)

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?


Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

Why do company accountants all use double entry? Why do many sole proprietors and not-for-profit organisations not use it? What led to the invention of double entry? Are the factors that led to its invention the same as the reasons it is used today? When did financial reporting begin? Why? By whom?

The factors that led to present day accounting practice were present in the 13th century when Italian merchants began to adopt double entry and large partnerships began to distribute profits. There were no teachers of bookkeeping, far less accounting and, for almost 300 years, the only way to learn these topics was in a business. How did usage spread from one business to another in the 13th century? Did it spread or was it reinvented continuously?

Businesses were small and merchants usually did their own bookkeeping. Only the larger businesses employed bookkeepers. What were the benefits of using double entry? Why did every merchant not use double entry? Would the benefits not have been the same for anyone who adopted it? Where did business take place? Did shops and shopping malls exist in the 13th century? Where did the goods sold come from? Did people use cash? Did account books record money, or did business operate in a quasi-Bitcoin economy with its own fictional currencies? Did auditors exist? If they did, what did they do? Who did they work for?

What account books did merchants use? Were they the same as the ones used today in our electronic accounting systems? Why have they changed, or not changed? Were the same account books used everywhere? Was double entry the same everywhere? Is there more than one way to do double entry? Is there more than one way to prepare a financial report? What did medieval accountants not do that we do today? What did they do that we do not do? Why did these changes occur? Was accounting more true and fair, more faithful in its representation in those times than it is now, or not? Why?

In the 13th century, how did merchants pay their suppliers? Were there banks? Could they write cheques, use standing orders, direct debits, or bank transfers? How did they prove a debt existed? Or, was everything paid for when purchased? How did a merchant in Florence pay a supplier in London? How did a merchant in Amsterdam receive the goods he ordered from Venice? How did the order reach the seller in Venice? What records did a merchant keep in the 13th century? 14th century? 15th century? 16th century? 17th century? 18th century? 19th century? 20th century? Why were those records kept?

How did medieval manufacturers know the unit cost of what they produced? When did this become important? Was management accounting important before the 18th century? Are direct and indirect costs a modern concept?

How did merchants account for their assets? What was the role of slavery? Did merchants find ways to account for human assets that did not cause offense? Do those methods still apply today?

What is the difference between bookkeeping and accounting? Which one came first? How did double entry bookkeeping become standardised in the 15th century when businesses were small, no tutors were teaching bookkeeping, and there were no bookkeeping textbooks?

How did charities keep account in the 15th century? Were they audited? Was it necessary to audit them? Why, why not?

What happened that bridged the 350+ year gap between the medieval period and modern times? Did business change? Did business records change? Did financial reporting change? Who produced annual reports? Why were they produced? What information did they contain? Who audited the information? What regulation over accounting existed before the mid-19th century? The mid-20th century?

How did a 15th century merchant record an asset when its cost was unknown? How did he record a purchase by barter? Or, a sale by barter? How did he record sales tax? How did he record rental income? How did he record wealth tax? How did he separate his personal assets from the assets of the business? Was a business a separate entity in medieval Italy? Why is Italy so dominant in all these questions?

This course deals with all these questions, sets them in context, and shows you why knowing the history of accounting will help you in your future career, to think outside the box, be different, and stand apart as an accountant who understands how and why accounting can make a difference.

The syllabus will cover the following topics:

  • Business needs; reporting needs; double entry bookkeeping.
  • Medieval Europe (465-1500) – The medieval trading world; bilateral Europe; Italy; the Hanseatic League; specie and bullion; moneys of account; banking; business structures; centres of trade; international trade; fairs; clearing; financial instruments; postal networks; bookkeeping in the North; Italian bookkeeping; medieval apprenticeships; medieval mercantile education; venture accounting; the medieval bookkeeping tutors; five centuries of bookkeeping and accounting in medieval international companies; bookkeeping in medieval family business, medieval government, and medieval charities; auditing; the regional systems of double entry in Italy; Luca Pacioli.
  • Early modern Europe (1500-1815) – The standardisation and diffusion of double entry beyond Italy; changing centres of trade and finance; trade fairs, finance fairs; bills of exchange; bookkeeping manuals; formal education in bookkeeping; 17th century bookkeeping in schools; the rise of the joint stock companies; government pursuit of double entry; 18th century business schools,
  • The myths of medieval and early modern accounting history.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

  • 1 Workshop during University weeks 26 - 35

More Information about Week Numbers

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments


MCQ tests in teaching weeks 3-10 (50%)

1000-word essay (50%)

Alternative Resit Assessment

1000-word essay (100%)

Formative Assessment

There are no assessments for this course.

Course Learning Outcomes

Knowledge LevelThinking SkillOutcome
ReflectionUnderstandCommunicate their knowledge and understanding effectively.
ReflectionEvaluateCritically reflect upon the influence of a range of factors on organisational practice.
ReflectionCreateCreate a speculative toolkit to be used to investigate and interpret organisation solutions in situations where data and information are insufficient.
ReflectionEvaluateEvaluate the validity of perspectives, views and conclusions in the research literature.

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