History of Smells

Follow Your Nose? Smell, Smelling, and Their HistoriesIn last week’s What We’re Reading we featured an article from the Boston Globe that considered the possibilities of preserving smells and saving them as historical artifacts. Jumping off from that fascinating idea, we bring you a few more articles on smell and history.

  • Follow Your Nose? Smell, Smelling, and Their Histories
    By Mark S. R. Jenner
    The April 2011 issue of the American Historical Review featured a forum of six articles on “The Senses in History.”Naturally, this collection included an article on smell, “Follow Your Nose? Smell, Smelling, and Their Histories” by Mark S.R. Jenner, along with the other articles on hearing, taste, and touch. Jenner’s article begins with a quote from Roy Porter, who said, “Today’s history comes deodorized. How many historians have given us the smell of previous societies? Researchers have been all too silent, repelled, it seems, by modern hygienic sensibilities even from contemplating the stench of the past.” Read a summary of this and the other articles from the April 2011 issue of the AHR here on the blog. Also, AHA members can access the complete article through a link on the member services page.
  • Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell
    By Roy Porter
    In 1996 the Journal of Social History featured this review by Roy Porter of the book Aroma: The Cultural History of Smellby Constance Classen, David Howes, and Anthony Synnott. Porter discussed the authors’ explorations of perfumes in Graeco-Roman Antiquity, use of incense in the Catholic Church, and the connections between smell and disease. The book also examines smells and their relationship to individuality, deities, power, status, gender, and more.
  • Smell-O-Vision
    Now for fun, we turn to the Wikipedia entry on the history of smell-o-vision, an attempt to incorporate scent into the movie-going experience. The entry tracks the project to attach smells to movies, from a first attempt in 1916 (even before films got sound), to a big debut at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, to other incarnations in the 1960s, ’80s, and even as recently as 2003. Read more here.
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