Actually, stereotyping accounting and accountants, either positively or negatively, is useless because accounting involves so many different activities. The short-but-sweet description of accounting is "the language of business." A more formal definition is offered by The American Accounting Association: "The process of identifying, measuring and communicating economic information to permit informed judgments and decisions by users of the information."
However defined, accounting plays a vital role in facilitating all forms of economic activity in the private, public and nonprofit sectors, in endeavors ranging from coal mining to community theater to municipal finance.
The name that looms largest in early accounting history is Luca Pacioli, who in 1494 first described the system of double-entry bookkeeping used by Venetian merchants in his Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita. Of course, businesses and governments had been recording business information long before the Venetians. But it was Pacioli who was the first to describe the system of debits and credits in journals and ledgers that is still the basis of today's accounting systems.
The industrial revolution spurred the need for more advanced cost accounting systems, and the development of corporations created much larger classes of external capital providers - shareowners and bondholders - who were not part of the firm's management but had a vital interest in its results. The rising public status of accountants helped to transform accounting into a profession, first in the United Kingdom and then in the United States. In 1887, thirty-one accountants…