Studying Beer History – Hoarding, Stealing, Learning to Let Go

Various books and magazine from the last 40+ years of CAMRA.

Even if you’re the first to share a nugget from the archives on social media doesn’t mean you discovered it, and almost certainly doesn’t mean you own it. And sharing is good for the soul.

We spent a large chunk of Sun­day scan­ning doc­u­ments from the Guin­ness col­lec­tion we’ve been sort­ing through so we could share their con­tents with a schol­ar work­ing on a book about stout.

For us, there’s a thrill in set­ting this infor­ma­tion free, not least because we know that when it comes to tech­ni­cal brew­ing his­to­ry, we’re far from being the best peo­ple to inter­pret sources.

But per­haps if this schol­ar was­n’t some­one we sort of know, and admire, we’d feel dif­fer­ent­ly.

In the course of research­ing two books, only one per­son refused to share source mate­r­i­al with us. Though it frus­trat­ed us in the moment, we do under­stand: seri­ous his­to­ri­ans are too used to hav­ing years, even decades of research repack­aged, and usu­al­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed, by dilet­tantes, TV pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies and hacks.

Both acad­e­mia and pub­lish­ing are com­pet­i­tive worlds, too, so there are all kinds of rea­sons peo­ple might unearth some­thing juicy and want to stake a claim, at least until after the next paper or book is pub­lished.

And the inter­net in par­tic­u­lar swims with par­a­sites, sav­ing and repost­ing and steal­ing and repost­ing until there are no pix­els left in any­thing.

Only this week we saw Liam’s hard work inves­ti­gat­ing the his­to­ry of Irish brew­ing exploit­ed by a copy-and-paster and felt his pain.

We quite often notice things we’ve shared here turn­ing up else­where with not so much as a ‘via’ or a link, some­times with the SOURCE water­marks we painstak­ing­ly added snipped off or blurred out.

We might tut a bit but we can’t real­ly com­plain. After all, even if we spent mon­ey and time acquir­ing the source mate­r­i­al, and even more time scan­ning, tidy­ing up and upload­ing it, we still don’t own those images or words, or the his­to­ry they encap­su­late.

Inter­pre­ta­tion, com­men­tary and nar­ra­tive – those you, or we, can right­ly stake a claim to, but the source mate­r­i­al ought to belong to every­one.

Even then, we’ve learned to let a bit of pil­fer­ing  go, per­haps with a vague belief in the idea of kar­ma: the research we take is equal to the research we make and all that.

So, if you’re sit­ting on orig­i­nal doc­u­ments relat­ing to beer and brew­ing, such as mag­a­zines, busi­ness papers, orig­i­nal pho­tographs or brew­ing logs, we’d urge you to do what you can to share some or all of them.

It might just be a blog post flag­ging their exis­tence, or some­thing more sub­stan­tial. Just get it out there.

And if you draw on some­one else’s research do try to be gen­er­ous with links and shout-outs and thank-yous. It does­n’t take a moment or cost much, it helps peo­ple trace sources back to the root, and, again, that kar­ma thing applies.

Final­ly, if you think we might have some­thing in our col­lec­tion that could help with your research, do drop us a line.

A partial list of what’s in our library
  • What’s Brew­ing, 1972–1977 (par­tial); 1979–1997, com­plete
  • A Month­ly Bul­letin, 1953–1956, 1960–1972
  • The Red Bar­rel, Wat­ney Mann, var­i­ous edi­tions 1950s-1970s
  • The House of Whit­bread, var­i­ous edi­tions 1940s-1960s
  • Guin­ness Time, var­i­ous edi­tions 1960s-70s, plus scans of indi­vid­ual arti­cles 1950s-60s
  • numer­ous odd issues of oth­er brew­ery in-house mag­a­zines 1920s-1970s
  • CAMRA Good Beer Guide, 1976 onward