44 minutes | Sep 23rd 2020

Theresa McCulla Beer Historian

Here's a piece of advice: find someone who talks about you the way Theresa McCulla talks about Charlie Papazian’s brewing spoon. As the curator for the American Brewing History Initiative at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, McCulla spends her time trying to capture modern American brewing history and manifesting it for the viewing public to experience and learn from.

Yes, McCulla is a beer historian but she’s already heard all of your jokes. She’s got the greatest job in the world. She must drink beer all day long. How can you get her gig? One way to do it is through more than a decade of dedicated study and scholarship at Harvard. When the Smithsonian hired her in 2017, a bit of a media whirlwind followed, replete with good-natured ribbing and laughs about the position. But McCulla’s work provides a critical and much needed understanding of “how Americans have used material and visual culture to define race, ethnicity, and gender, especially in the realm of food and drink.” Specifically in her work as curator of the American Brewing History Initiative, McCulla collects objects, documents, and oral histories from the “talented women and men who make the American brewing industry the most creative in the world,” as she notes. This includes selecting and preserving key or curious items from American craft brewing history, including Papazian’s homebrewing paraphernalia. Contained in a museum that also displays Julia Child’s full kitchen, the American Brewing History Initiative is the first national-scale, scholarly effort to collect the histories of homebrewing and craft beer in the 20th and 21st-century United States.

Breweries in other countries have long made it a practice of preserving their beer histories. And while the biggest American breweries typically have private archives that are rarely open even to scholars, smaller craft breweries haven’t given much if any thought that what they were doing would be of interest to historians. McCulla is trying to change that mindset by collecting and displaying some of the industry’s historic items.

In our wide-ranging conversation, McCulla talks about homebrewing with her dad when she was a kid. We also discuss the importance of taking a broader approach to the history of beer and brewing in America, one told through a very different lens than what you usually read in modern beer histories. And we talk about what a museum based historian does when her museum is closed for months due to a pandemic.

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  • Hosts: Andy Crouch
  • Guests: Theresa McCulla
  • Tags: beer, craft beer, Theresa McCulla, National Museum of American History, American Brewing History Initiative, Charlie Papazian