Joseph Schumpeter argued that a dynamic historical perspective was necessary in studying entrepreneurship and how it worked within capitalist economies. The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on the role of historical methods in the study of entrepreneurship. We outline the arguments for why and how historical approaches are essential for understanding entrepreneurial processes. Our more ambitious agenda is to re-stimulate the exchange between historical and social scientific studies of entrepreneurship that Schumpeter envisioned and at least briefly inspired in the decades after World War II. Today, empirical historical research on entrepreneurship and social scientific theorizing about it are separated by a deeper gulf than they were half a century ago. This is a loss to both sides.

The paper begins with a brief survey of the evolution of the scholarly literature on entrepreneurship, paying particular attention to the changing ways in which historical perspective has been used by scholars in the field. We demonstrate that social scientific research on entrepreneurship has displayed declining analytical attention to historical context over the last few decades. The arguments supporting Schumpeter’s assertion that “history matters” in the systematic study of entrepreneurship are then outlined. We highlight three specific historical methods that can contribute to the study of entrepreneurship. We conclude by suggesting that a fruitful exchange between historical and social scientific approaches offers management scholars an opportunity to gain significant theoretical insights into entrepreneurial process.