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Beer Historian Starts Dream Job at the Smithsonian

Topics: Career Profiles

Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, the job market in the U.S. has been in a perpetual state of change. Some jobs disappear, because of market changes or technological advances, and new ones emerge. Now, thanks in part to the craft beer market explosion, we can add one more exciting new job title to the list: Beer Historian – at the Smithsonian.

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The job listing:

News of this job appeared about eight months ago in the Washington City Paper as a part of a report about the Food History project at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. News that the Smithsonian was looking to hire a beer scholar for a three-year appointment took the internet by storm.

“We have collected food history for many years, so when we were doing the research for the exhibition, which is all about big changes in the post WWII era in how and what we eat, one thing we were curious about is the craft beer movement,” curator Paula Jones told Washington City Paper. “We were looking at wine, coffee, cheese, artisanal bread, and farmers markets. Well, this movement with small-scale, local regional beer is part of the ethos.”

The job was listed as paying $64,650 per year, plus benefits, and interested parties were asked to submit their applications by August 10th, 2016.

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The job posting read:

The Smithsonian Food History project at the National Museum of American History, in Washington, DC, is seeking a professional historian / scholar to conduct archival and field research for a new initiative on American brewing history, with special emphasis on the craft industry. The position is located in the Division of Work and Industry and will be a three-year appointment.  The successful candidate will 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. The candidate will work with members of the curatorial staff on collections work and develop content for a wide variety of programs and applications, including digital formats. Candidates with an advanced degree in American business, brewing, food, cultural, or similar specialization within history are encouraged to apply. Must be able to travel, work independently as well as within a team environment, to meet deadlines, and to communicate effectively with co-workers and the public.

The right fit:

Just a few weeks ago, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced they’d found the perfect candidate. Historian Theresa McCulla has enthusiastically accepted the position. She will oversee the “Brewing History Initiative” at the museum over the course of the next three years.

McCulla will receive her doctorate in American Studies from Harvard in May. She has a background in food as well as history. She has a degree from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts’ Professional Chefs Program. And, she also directed the Food Literacy Project for Harvard University Dining Services and managed Harvard’s two farmers markets from 2007 through 2010.

She is more than a little excited about starting her new job. McCulla hopes to shine a light on the people that helped American brewing get its start.

“One common stereotype about American beer is its identity as largely, if not exclusively, masculine,” McCulla tells “But the history shows us that the very first brewers were women and enslaved peoples who brewed beer in the home.”

McCulla can’t wait to uncover more information about the subject and share the connections she finds with others.

“Smithsonian has already used food as a very critical and successful entry point into talking with the public about much bigger questions relating to American history,” McCulla tells “We really feel quite strongly that beer is a very effective lens into much bigger questions about American history. If you look at the history of beer, you can understand stories related to immigration and industrialization and urbanization. You can look at advertising and the history of consumer culture and changing consumer taste. Brewing is integrated into all facets of American history.”

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