Historical Perspectives on Smell
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Illinois Press
Series: Studies in Sensory History
Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page, Dedication
Like many other authors who have grappled with the subject of smell previously, I have found my time engaged in the field of sense studies to be among the most collegial of professional experiences. Not only did colleagues regularly offer to read drafts of the chapters presented here, but...
Introduction: Picking up the Scent
Smell is a cultural phenomenon. Members of past societies relied on smell to understand and engage with both their immediate environment and a wider world of meanings. Thus, “The study of the cultural history of smell” has been described by leading sensory studies scholars Constance Classen...
1. Heavenly Scents: Religion and Smell
Smells are thought to reveal things about the objects, people, and places from which they emanate. In their sweeping survey of aroma, Constance Classen, David Howes, and Anthony Synnott remind us that smells are drenched with meaning, often viewed as “intrinsic ‘essences’” with the...
2. Fragrant Lucre: The Perfume Trade
While historical research on the role of scent in religion is relatively limited, the history of perfume is well documented and has been central to histories of aroma since studies on the subject first began to appear. Histories of the senses frequently contain considerable commentary on perfume and...
3. Odorous Others: Race and Smell
As outlined in chapter 1, throughout human history scents have often functioned to unite people with their deities and other worshipers in religious rituals. Yet smells have also effectively divided populations and were regularly invoked to oppress certain groups. The Roman concern with...
4. Seduction and Subversion: Gender and Smell
Smell and gender are inextricably connected, as usually becomes apparent early in most histories of perfume. Edwin Morris, to take one example, begins his history of fragrance with the admission that he initially “felt embarrassed” at the outset of his research, as the subject appeared trivial to...
5. Uncommon Scents: Class and Smell
Besides classifying primarily good and bad smells, most histories of smell describe it as the most elitist of the senses. Initially the preserve of the gods, or aromatic luxuries enjoyed primarily by ancient royalty, given their cost, perfumes and scented items were synonymous with the social success...
6. Mapping the Smellscape: Smell and the City
Since the publication of Alain Corbin’s and Patrick Süskind’s very different but equally influential and inspiring volumes, the predominant discourse in histories of smell has focused on filthy cities and the coming of modern urban sanitation.1 In fact, Alain Corbin began his own study of past...
Conclusion: Beyond the Foul and Fragrant
In a foreword to Corbin’s The Foul and the Fragrant (1996), the historian Roy Porter claimed that “today’s history comes deodorised.”1 This long-acknowledged neglect of smell by academics, as outlined in the introduction to this volume, is credited to a reordering of the senses that occurred some...