Saturday, March 30, 2024

Robert Shea Terrell's "A Nation Fermented"

Robert Shea Terrell is an assistant professor of history at Syracuse University, where he specializes in Modern Germany and Europe, with a research focus on commodity and food history. His research has been funded by the J. William Fulbright Commission, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., among other institutions. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California San Diego.

Terrell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Nation Fermented: Beer, Bavaria, and the Making of Modern Germany, and reported the following:
Opening my book to page 99 drops you a few pages into the fourth chapter, which analyzes regional and national cultures of beer in the 1950s and 1960s. The page details the formation of Bierwerbe G.m.b.H.—a nationwide community advertising entity in West Germany—and the development of its flagship advertisement, the so-called Blue Medallion. The page goes into the origins and design considerations behind the ad which was intended to promote beer regardless of brand. By the end of 1951, the image “was plastered across West Germany; upwards of 300,000 signs and posters were produced, paid for with a communal budget of 900,000DM, generated by collecting 10 Pfennigs per hectoliter from member breweries.” The page ends by noting that in addition to the Blue Medallion, Bierwerbe G.m.b.H. went on to develop myriad “advertising initiatives ranging from posters to ads in magazines and newspapers, and eventually, on radio and television.”

Those seeking to pull the core ideas of the book out of page 99 will find it difficult. The page does not capture a great deal of the book including some of the main content areas, analytic themes, and overarching arguments. Indeed, even within the chapter, this page only speaks to a national-level advertising initiative, while the rest of the chapter looks at similar developments in the southeastern state of Bavaria as well as national, regional, and gendered consumer practices and social norms.

To further undermine the usefulness of the Page 99 Test in the case of my book, the chapter in question is—for all that I like about it—perhaps the least integral to my bigger arguments. As a whole, A Nation Fermented argues that Bavarian industrial and political interests transformed national cultures of production and consumption throughout the twentieth century. I emphasize how this is the case in everything from tax law to consumer culture to international stereotypes. But page 99 constitutes part of a chapter that retains the most tension between regional and national histories. By the end of the chapter I argue that while provincialism in consumer practices remained, they became less divisive as beer, stripped of brand or locality, became emblematic of an emerging West German consumer culture.
Learn more about A Nation Fermented at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue