The Smithsonian Is Hiring a Beer Historian

Seeking scholars who know their brews.

July 27, 2016, 12:20 PM

— -- The world’s largest research and museum complex is looking for scholars who know their beer.

From America’s earliest days, beer has had a place in cultural history. Now, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History wants to make sure that history is well documented through a new position: official beer historian.

It’s a three-year position, funded by the Brewers Association and equipped with a $64,000 salary plus benefits, according to the job posting, which also notes a specific desire for those involved in the trendy industry of craft breweries.

But make no mistake. The Smithsonian is not looking for just any beer drinker -- applicants are encouraged to come prepared with an “advanced degree” in American business, brewing, food or history, and must have “proven experience in scholarly research, organizing and conducting oral history interviews, writing for both scholarly and general audiences, and knowledge of material culture and archival materials,” according to the job posting.

“This is not just what’s in the glass, but innovations in the industry, economic history, social and cultural history…. There are a lot of strands that come together to make this part of the larger narrative of American history,” said Smithsonian curator Paula Johnson.

The new position will help fill in some important details in the Smithsonian’s current exhibit, the Food History Project, which chronicles big changes in what Americans eat and drink, said Johnson. It will also explain the recent jump in popularity of breweries in America.

Recent data shows that 2015 saw more than 4,200 total breweries operating in the U.S., the most at any time in American history, according to the Brewers Association. Craft breweries in the United States more than doubled from 2009 to 2015. Microbreweries alone saw a 20 percent increase from 2014 to 2015, statistics show.

That’s one brewery for every three McDonald’s, according to chief economist at the Brewers Association, Bart Watson, and one brewery for every 3.7 Starbucks.

“In order to see a trend, you have to see the deep history. [The new position] will attend to both. You always want to understand, 'How did we get to 4,200 small breweries here in 2016 from just a few 30 years ago?' There’s an economic aspect and a community aspect to this story,” Johnson said.

Johnson and her team are excited for the exhibition on America’s beer history, and while Johnson herself prefers a glass of wine to a pint of beer, she said there are some “fantastic folks here at the museum who are very involved in the local [brewery] scene.”

They foresee some exciting brewery programs in the future -- two a year for the next three years of the position, to be exact.

“We do a series of after-hours programs here and we really are interested in getting young folks involved in history and in the museum,” said Johnson. The first event will be in October, following the new hire of their scholar in all things beer.

Applications for the position are due by Aug. 10 and should include a CV, cover letter and the names of three references.

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