Guest Post: Oregon's Beer Archives

As part of the Special Series: Food and Technology, today's guest post by archivist Tiah Edmunson-Morton will continue the discussion on the role of technology in historical representations of food. 

Hop pests and their control: Hop Field Day 1941
Oregon is a special place, known for stunning natural beauty, months of rain, a taste for pushing on the edges of "normal," and a politically purple hue with both progressive and conservative populist citizens. The Northwest is also a fascinating spot to study the cultural and social aspects of a region well-known for growing hops and brewing beer.

Like many Oregonians, my own family history is connected to farming and I have deep Oregon roots dating to the 1850s. My great-great grandpa and his brother grew hops before mildew wiped out their crops and they planted sour cherries in the 1940s. While my family was in farming for generations, I am solidly an academic. 

The county experimental hop yard recruited Oregon State College
coeds for a quick job of hoeing

I work at Oregon State University, a school with a rich legacy of hops, barley, and fermentation research. It was at this university that I started the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives (OHBA) in 2013, the first of its kind in the country. I collect, preserve, and share materials that tell the story of Northwest brewing, focusing on paper and electronic records related regional hops and barley farming, craft and home brewing, cider, and mead. Cornerstones are the university research dating to the 1890s, papers of beer historian Fred Eckhardt and Oregon Hop Growers Association, extensive industry periodicals, book collections, newsletters, photographs, memorabilia, advertising materials, and an ever-expanding collection of oral histories.

At its core, OHBA is a community archiving project, but that doesn’t mean I can save everything the community wants me to save! I don’t have room for farm equipment and I can’t find a box big enough for a brew kettle. I do have a small wooden cask from McMenamins though – and it’s decorated with a sharpie drawn picture.

As cliché as it sounds, it really is hard to pick a "favorite" collection from the nearly 20 I've accessioned in four years (see But, there are two that stand out for me.

The first is the Fred Eckhardt Papers. Otto Fredrick “Fred” Eckhardt (1926 - 2015) was a well-known advocate, critic, educator, mentor, and historian. Eckhardt rose to prominence with his 1970 A Treatise on Lager Beers, a guide to homebrewing and the evolution of lager beer. It is worthy to note homebrewing was illegal at the time of publication. His 1989 The Essentials of Beer Style is still considered a required read for brewers and beer lovers alike. Eckhardt passed away in 2015, and that fall I picked up an amazing 30 box collection described at

The Eckhardt collection is rich with information on historical and contemporary brewing practices; research and personal notes; published and unpublished material about beer styles; lecture and teaching notes; events and festival details, and photographs of brewing operations, brewers, national and international travels, and industry events. He kept extensive “subject and research files,” which cover a broad range of topics such as food pairings, history, beer styles, Pacific Northwest breweries, beer ingredients, and alcohol distribution. He saved letters and printed emails, industry articles, news clippings, maps, government documents, event programs and press releases, and scholarly publications.

As a beer critic and writer, he wrote for many major industry periodicals, providing a dense record of the nascent craft industry. His collection features a series of his self-published works, including the original research, design templates, drafts, and final versions. In addition to his own work, Eckhardt also collected the work of other prominent beer writers, historians, and researchers. Finally, he travelled extensively across the country from 1980 to 2000, a period marked by an explosive growth of microbreweries and brewpubs, and kept extensive notes and photographs. Included in the collection are records on beer tastings, brewing facilities, judge's notes, and his personal reflections and unique observations.

harvesting hop bines

The second collection to highlight is the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives Oral History Collection ( When I began talking with collection donors in 2013, I realized that most craft brewery founders are still in the industry and their archives are actually active business records. And for most farmers their business history is family history.

Gathering oral histories was a way to record the history without actually taking the stuff. Over the past four years I’ve conducted nearly 80 oral histories with brewers, farmers, scientists, journalists, and promotors. I use a Canon Camcorder to video record my interviews and a Zoom Handy Recorder as audio back up. The files are raw .wav and .mts, which are stored on the libraries off-site preservation server along with lower-resolution derivative .mpg files. Additionally, .mp3 copies of each interview file are generated from the raw files and stored on our department file server for local access. Online copies of each interview video are available in two locations: OSU's MediaSpace media distribution platform ( and on the OHBA Research Guide ( The archivists’ motto for digital preservation is L.O.C.K.S.S. – lots of copies keep stuff safe!

Oral history interviews offer a unique perspective; they capture voices that might otherwise not be recorded and preserved in the archival record, and offer a powerful way for people to connect to their communities, save the stories of their families, and reflect on important milestones. They allow us to learn about the messy story of history, putting the personal into the records.

In the past, archivists might have focused on the records as they were, acting as passive collectors who gather materials with a level of personal distance. When archivists are also oral historians, those lines start to blur. We are not simply collectors, but creators and history shapers. And when an archivist, curator, and oral historian focuses on an underrepresented group within a larger industry, it’s a short step towards political action, advocacy, and a shaping of the objective historical record in very subjective ways.

As I thought about the impact and purpose of my work as an archivist and an oral historian, I asked what I wanted to document and why I wanted to do interviews. What appealed to me wasn't just working to save the stories of the dominant group of brewers (white men), but a broader range of experiences; however, if I wanted to accurately document the industry, the majority of the people I’d be talking to would be white men.

What would happen if I didn’t do that? And what would happen if I asked a lot of people questions about gender? It turns out a lot of very interesting things and some somewhat surprising answers.

After giving a talk at the Pop Culture Conference in April 2017 I wrote up my thoughts on gender and oral history on my blog ( As I reflect on that talk nearly a year later, I realize that the more women (and men) I've talked with, the more perspectives and stories I have.

The historical record is never singular – and there's always another question.

Tiah Edmunson-Morton is the director of the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives at Oregon State University's Library. As part of that work, she collects materials that document the history of all things beer in Oregon, from research reports to event posters; she's especially active in gathering oral histories from members of the community. When she isn't doing things related to beer history, she teaches about library and archival research, manages the Special Collections and Archives Research Center's exhibits and internship programs, and coordinates social media and outreach. She has an MLIS from San José State University, MA in English Literature from Miami University, and is a Certified Archivist. Follow the OBHA on Twitter @brewingarchives!

If you are interested in learning more about the Oregon Brewing Archives and utilizing their resources, find out more below:

Sites: (collections, research guide). (photos, publications) (photos).

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