Curiouser and Curiouser...

My Adventures in blogging, digital and Public History

Saturday, September 23, 2006

On History, Pubs and Beer

In his article “Free Beer for Geeks”(Wired,18 July, 2005) David Cohen describes how a group of German students published a beer recipe under a creative commons license. Now anyone can use the recipe for “pleasure or for profit”. You can make modifications, change the recipe if you will, and then brew away. “The only catch: If you make money selling their unique beer, you have to give them credit and publish any changes you make to the recipe under a similar license.”(Cohn, David. “Free Beer for Geeks,” Wired (18 Jul 2005) It seems to me that there are a number of links between ‘free beer’ and public history. After all, isn’t public history about collaboration and sharing of ideas? And once there has been discourse on a subject , aren’t there sometimes new and exciting developments? When new evidence has been discovered, implemented and shared, as in public history or a new beer recipe, don’t we all benefit? Of course the recipe may not always work out and there are some people out there, who, no matter what the mix, will never like anything other than the original brew. But that’s okay too. It’s the brew master’s job( or the public historian’s job for that matter) to reflect on the situation and provide options for the next batch of brew.

All this talk about beer and public history got me thinking about other links between the two subjects. The first thing that came to mind was of course the “Public House” or the pub. I mean could there be any greater tie between the two ? They share part of a name! Pubs were first known as “Public Houses” during the Victorian era. Previous to that, there were three distinct place you could drink in England: taverns( where you could get ale and food, inns ( which had food, drink and gave you a place to sleep) and the dodgy ale houses frequented by the likes of Shakespeare’s Falstaff.( The Lonely Planet England, 2001 ) Almost every household in the Middle Ages brewed ale(you took your chances with the water) and if you were particularly good at it and your ale was in demand you could sell it for a profit (not very ‘open source’ but hey, it was the middle ages) This led to the development of ale houses.

During the Industrial Revolution, brewers began capitalising on the scores of workers looking to quench their thirst and began selling brew to the public from originally private houses, thus the name ‘public house’.( The Lonely Planet England, 2001 )

So what does all this have to do with Public History( other than the name) and open source material? Well, I think it is the idea that the masses, the people, really dictate what history should be told. It was their need for a ‘safe’ and accessible beverage that led to the development of the pub and it is the public’s need for an understanding of the past that leads Public Historians to do what they do.

No one person or corporation should control access to historical knowledge. Rosenzweig says that “ public support underwrites all historical knowledge”. So if this is the case, shouldn’t the public have access to this knowledge? Does anyone really have the right to ‘own’ intellectual property? As a public historian I feel it is important for an individual or group to tell their own story - access to knowledge may help them do that.

At the very least, the public may have access to some pretty good brew recipes! Cheers!

Free software'' is a matter of liberty, not price.”
(Stallman, Richard M. “The Free Software Definition,” (2004)


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