History of beer course on tap for spring

Debora Van Brenk//Western NewsHistory professor Michael Dove hopes his new course following the history of beer helps students realize that “history isn’t that scary. Everything has a history, whether its beer or pirates or immigration to the United States. Everything has an historical context and in order to find solutions, we need to know a bit about its evolution.”

More than just a look at the evolution from Mesopotamian times to modern craft ales, a newly brewed course is intended to show how beer has played a part in shaping social, economic, cultural, political and anthropological realities throughout human history.

“These are history courses and about a way of thinking differently about history,” History professor Michael Dove explained. “This is not ‘History Lite.’”

The course, History 2192A Beer: The Business, Social and Cultural History of a Global Beverage, is offered for the first time, starting in May, as a six-week distance course. The aim is that students learn “the pivotal role the production and consumption of beer has play in local, national and international economies and cultures.”

The first beer production in Mesopotamia and Egypt, for example, helped mark the transition of society from hunter/gatherer to agrarian. Only by cultivating crops could they make their dietary staples of bread and beer.

Beer-making in medieval Europe helped jumpstart a languid economy and spurred international trade. In more recent history: the rise of industrial-age brewing demanded scientific rigour; then consolidation and corporatization supplanted local breweries and planted seeds of globalism; and the rise of microbreweries has created a resurgence in local supply chains and agrifood tourism.

In between, beer has fomented and fermented food wars, trade wars, ad wars, changing roles women, scientific advances, corporate takeovers and a vacillating social acceptability both for and against beer drinking.

One case study of the Canadian brewing tradition will include the evolution of the John Labatt Brewery from hometown brewmaster to global icon. Western is also home to the Labatt Brewing Company Collection and virtual exhibit as part of its archives.

The 6,000-year story of beer is really an interdisciplinary study, Dove said. Beer may be the appetizer but history is the main course.

“It certainly serves that purpose, to get students through the door, and then they realize that history isn’t that scary. Everything has a history, whether its beer or pirates or immigration to the United States. Everything has an historical context and in order to find solutions, we need to know a bit about its evolution.”

He knows of just one other Canadian university course, in Ottawa, that offers a beer course.