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There’s more to beer history than footnotes

Sam Calagione channels Woody Guthrie

I’m not sure if Des de Moor and Alan McLeod were really writing about the importance of brewing history yesterday or something else. Like the role of journalist or the connection between reading about beer and enjoying beer.

But they reminded me I’ve been meaning to mention the latest special edition from The Brewery History Society: “The American Brewing Industry Since Repeal: Large and Smaller Brewers.”

Amy Mittelman (Brewing Battles) wrote the introduction, Sam Calagione provides an imagined history1, Fred Eckhardt a remembered history and Doug Hoverson (Land of Amber Waters) a fully footnoted history2. Just to give you an idea of what’s in the issue. [The contents].

It’s not the compleat history of the industry since 1933, but tells a complete story and is a reminder of at least what I expect from historians. They do more than check facts. They interpret them in a way that history makes sense; maybe even the present and future. For further examples consult Ambitious Brew and The Story of the Pint

1 Calagione’s contribution is an imagined conversation between Woody Guthrie and Charlie Papazian. Several years ago Calagione made Guthrie the centerpiece of a series of beer dinners. In the picture at the top from 2003 he is channeling Guthrie during one such dinner at d.b.a. in New Orleans.

2 A reminder it sure will be nice when he finishes the Wisconsin companion to his Minnesota history.

14 Responses to There’s more to beer history than footnotes

  1. Alan September 9, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    I have to say that I think there is a difference between the rich and intelligent entertainment value of a good read and robust peer-reviewed history. I keep coming to Hornsey as the best example of the latter and wonder why there are so few at that level.

    • Stan Hieronymus September 9, 2011 at 9:21 am #

      Alan – You’ll be glad to know that Beer History notes which articles are peer reviewed.

  2. Amy September 9, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    Thanks for the mention and your understanding what historians do, It was a lot of fun to be the guest editor on the issue and read everyone’s work. Cheers!

  3. Alan September 9, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    And I should have said that The Journal of the Brewery History Society (aka TJOTBHS) is the journal that gives me the same hope as Hornsey. My bad.

  4. Craig September 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    I have to disagree with you. I work in a museum, with both historians and scientists. Neither are very good at interpreting, anything. This is not to knock their skills and talents at all, but interpretation is not what they are paid to do. Interpreting history and researching history are two very separate ideas. We have a full planning and interpretive staff who take the information supplied by both the Scientific research and Historical research departments and make, what would most likely be over the heads of most of our visitors, understandable to both adults and children. The interpretive staff does work very closely with both parties. As far as written history goes (beer or otherwise) It’s realistically, the copy editors and publishing staff is who is presenting historical fact into a comprehensive and understandable interpretation—albeit working with the researchers.

    Sam makes my point. He’s not interpreting anything. He is in fact making something up that suits his own needs—and using the guise of history to do it. Writing in the voice of Woody Guthrie—or Charlie Papazian for that matter—is historical fiction. It may have a few facts and my bring up interesting stories, but fiction, nonetheless. Hal Holbrook may sound like Mark Twain or you might think Gary Cooper was a great Lou Gherig, but neither are the real Twain or Gherig. Channeling Woody Guthrie at a beer dinner is simply acting—and a bit pretentious.

  5. Stan Hieronymus September 10, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Craig – Perhaps I should have done a better job of writing, but to be clear:

    a) Sam Calagione is a wonderful story teller, but that doesn’t make him an historian.

    b) You and I disagree on the definition of historian. I have total admiration for people who are good at research, at collecting facts, at checking facts, but that doesn’t make them historians.

  6. Craig September 10, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    Actually, I think it’s our definition of interpretation that differs!

  7. Alan September 11, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    Stan, I think it is incumbent on you to fill in some more detail on this:

    “I have total admiration for people who are good at research, at collecting facts, at checking facts, but that doesn’t make them historians.”

    What does make them historians if not that?

  8. Stan Hieronymus September 11, 2011 at 6:38 am #

    Craig – That works too.

    Alan – Sorry, I meant those skills alone don’t make them good historians. Those are part of package. But there’s also the matter of knowing what to leave out, for instance. Of presenting a story in a way that history makes sense, and – repeating myself – that it may be relevant to the present and future.

    (And then there’s the fact that history teachers are not historians, but we’ve started to wander, haven’t we?)

  9. Alan September 11, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    I get you. But we also have to admit the reverse. That compelling presentation and popularity can cover up poor history with all the sloppy and even diverting implications.

  10. Stan Hieronymus September 11, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    Agreed, Alan. It all starts with getting the facts right.

  11. Craig September 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    “But there’s also the matter of knowing what to leave out, for instance. Of presenting a story in a way that history makes sense, and – repeating myself – that it may be relevant to the present and future.”

    That’s it! That’s is the crux of argument! I would argue that most historians don’t do that. In my experience dealing with historians, they would rather give too much information, and allow the interpretive planners or (editorial staff) to decide what should be included. That is to say there aren’t disagreements or even arguments between the two parties, but generally, for the sake of the museum visitor, the planners usually come out on top. We have a saying at the museum—Scientists were children who never grew up, and historians were never children. As great as some of the historians are—and some of them are my best friends—and as important as they work they do is, they sometimes (more often than not) get caught up in the minutia of their work. As an exhibit graphic designer, I also help, visually interpret, a good bit of historical and scientific information. On numerous occasions, gone back to my content providers and said, “This is too complicated to communicate visually—We need to go back to the drawing board.”

    I recently worked on an exhibit about the NY National Guard in the 20th Century (I was actually a content provider on this one, too!) During the development of the exhibit we were asked to develop a chart that connected the lineage of modern NYNG units to the Civil War and in some cases American Revolution. Making a chart to do that would have been enormous and would look like a splat of spaghetti on the wall. It was simply too much information and it took the interpretive planner and myself to convince the historians and director that we needed to convey the information in a simpler manner.

    • Stan Hieronymus September 11, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

      Craig – So it is our definition of historian that differs. At this point in the conversation I’m sure nobody but us two is paying attention, but I must admit that my definition is narrower than most. You work in the museum business and are better qualified than I to say who qualifies there as an historian.

      I tend to think of a) what makes it to print and gets read by some sort of audience and b) what I’ll read.

  12. Craig September 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    Stan, I’m fairly used to having no one pay attention to what I write!

    Perhaps I’m being a touch self-conscience about my day job. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into presenting history and science to the public—be it in a museum, on-line, or in print—and, unfortunately a good number of people who are overlooked that are contribute to that work.

    But, I digress. To bring this whole thing back to beer (because that’s what it’s all about, right?) Fellows like Alan, Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson, who to my knowledge are not historians, but are unearthing little tidbits of brewing’s past or dispelling age-old beery myths. They are doing the real historical interpretation. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that history is open to everyone and you needn’t be a historian to interpret it—and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with that last part.

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