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

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