New project to recreate smells from centuries ago

Would you like to know what the sixteenth century smelt like? A team of researchers is trying to find out. Scientists, historians and experts in smells have embarked on a $3.3 million project to identify and even recreate the aromas that filled the air between the 16th and early 20th centuries. The project is called "Odeuropa: Negotiating Olfactory and Sensory Experiences in Cultural Heritage Practice and Research". The goal is to develop an online encyclopaedia of smells, including biographies of distinct odours that are specific to past times. The website will reveal insights into the emotions aroused by the smells in bygone centuries and the places associated with certain scents.

The project website says: "Smells shape our experience of the world, yet we have very little sensory information about the past." It lists a series of questions it hopes researchers will answer. These are: "What are the key scents…that have shaped our cultures? How can we extract sensory data from large-scale digital text and image collections? How can we represent smell in all its facets in a database? How should we safeguard our olfactory heritage? And – Why should we?" Team leader Dr William Tullett wants people to be aware of an array of smells, pleasant and unpleasant. He said: "We are trying to encourage people to consider both the foul and the fragrant elements of Europe's olfactory past."