When I began studying the historical budgets and accounting materials that I have discussed this week, my primary aim was to answer a central question of my dissertation. There have been some auxiliary advantages, however, that I did not expect:
1. Between this work and the corpus analysis project I completed this summer, I got a lot more practice with Excel. I already knew the basics—inputting data, adding and deleting rows and columns, and building formulas—but I learned a lot more about how to create graphs and charts. My sister created the first few line graphs for me, and by taking them apart and swapping data in and out, I learned how to create generate my own. I also played around with different formats and settings and discovered new ways to make my data visualizations more helpful.
2. I have a better understanding of the value of money—both as currency with variable purchasing power, and as a resource that organizations and businesses carefully allocate. For most organizations, labor and personnel are both the most costly line items in their budget and the most necessary to keep their programs productive, successful, and innovative. To pay for staff and for high quality programs, there is always a balance to strike between raising income and raising barriers. For organizations that serve working class or lower middle class clients who do not qualify for subsidized or public programs, there is always a risk that clients will not be able to afford higher fees—leaving the organization with even less income and the client without a valuable resource.
3. Finally, the biggest benefit to pursing this forensic accounting was the satisfaction of learning something new. I never expected to perform so much arithmetic in the course of my dissertation research! I’ve been surprised to find how much I enjoy using quantitative methodologies to analyze the past. I would now like to do even more quantitative work in future research projects.
Even though my foray into historical accounting and budget analysis was intimidating, I found it enormously valuable and would encourage other scholars to attempt similar inquiries in the context of their own projects.