A Historyless History

The Cider in the United States Wikipedia page includes sections on the history and regionalism of American cider, all supported by 55 footnotes. Footnotes are fantastically helpful. They give almost anything an air of being well-researched.

But if you do more than glance at the page’s footnotes something interesting emerges. As you can see below (click image to enlarge), almost every footnote references a modern cidermaker’s website, press release, or newspaper article.

Cider in US footnotes

Retrieved 17 May 2016

There isn’t a lot of real history supporting this history. You might ask why this matters?

First, quoting cidermakers about the history of cider is like quoting the Ford Motor Company about the history of American automobiles, or Exxon about responsible energy use, or Dick Cheney about the art of diplomacy. It’s going to be incomplete and biased from the start.

And secondly, for all the claims about how important history is to their work, the modern cidermaking community doesn’t really understand or know that history. They do, however, know how to share a “good story” when they hear one.

This might seem like a snobbish rant. Maybe it is, but it’s also an interesting (to me, at least) case study in how some people interact with and use history.

For now it seems the popular understanding of American cider history is being written through marketing copy and by “whisper-down-the-lane” tales. It’s a shame really, because there are lots of real “good stories” about cider history out there. For instance, have you heard the one about cider as a gateway drink…

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