What is the History of Bookkeeping?

There is evidence that basic bookkeeping tasks have been completed for thousands of years. Ancient markings have indicated that bookkeeping and accounting activities have taken place since at least 6,000BC, while some believe practices go back as far as 70,000BC.

The Official Birth of Bookkeeping

However, what we would call bookkeeping today wasn’t born until 1300. The business ledger for Giovanino Farolfi & Company, which was completed by Amatino Manucci, who was a partner in the company, is purported to show use of double entry bookkeeping for the first time. The earliest evidence of this bookkeeping practice is dated at 1340, which are that year’s accounts for what was the Republic of Genoa.

These records are the earliest known that feature carry forward balances, a clear distinction between credits and debits, and were used as an example to financial professionals and merchants of the time as the modern way of keeping business records.

Pacioli/Cotrugli Debate

Despite the work of Manucci almost 200 years prior, Luca Pacioli is credited with being the first to place the methods of double-entry bookkeeping in academic form, with his 1494 book titled “Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità.” As such, Pacioli is often called the ‘father of accounting,’ due to his work allowing a wider range of people to learn the double-entry method, despite it being used for many generations previously. There is even consternation over Pacioli’s claim to have been the first to document double entry bookkeeping, with academics split on whether Benedetto Cotrugli’s 1458 work “Della mercatura e del mercante perfetto” was in fact the first such documented guide.

As the work of both men spread across Europe and to the rest of the world, the way business tracked their transactions would change forever. Moving forward, businesses would also adopt other practices and adapt their own bookkeeping to suit their own needs.

Modern Bookkeeping

While there is still demand for specialist bookkeepers, many business are able to manage their processes using automated software today, which involves having to do little more than simply enter figures into a program.