What smelled like Europe for centuries? Historians set out to recreate the lost scents

What smelled like Europe for centuries? Historians set out to recreate the lost scents

London – For hundreds of years, through epidemics and other epidemics, people used to believe that disease was not spread by droplets or flea bites, but by inhaling unpleasant odors. To purify the air around them, they would burn hot rosemary and tar.

These scents, which were zipping through the winding streets of London, were very common during this period The great plague From the 17th century it became synonymous with the plague itself, historians say.

Now, he also faces the world Another large-scale outbreakA team of historians and scientists from six European countries seeks to identify and classify the most common scents of everyday life across Europe from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, and study the changes in smells over time in society.

The $ 3.3 million “Odeuropa” project announced this week will use artificial intelligence to examine more than 250,000 images and thousands of texts, including medical textbooks, novels and magazines, in seven languages. Researchers will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to train computers to analyze references in texts to scents, such as incense and tobacco.

Once indexed, researchers, who work with chemists and perfumers, will reproduce nearly 120 scents in the hope that museum curators will incorporate some of the scents into exhibits to make the visits more immersive or memorable for museum-goers.

The project is for a period of three years, which is Funded by the European Union, A guide to how museums use scents in exhibits. Historians have said that using scents in exhibits could make museums more accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.

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“Museums are often unsure of how scent is used in their spaces,” said Dr. William Tollett, assistant professor of early modern European history at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England.

Plans for the project, which begins in January, began before the pandemic, but researchers said it was the Coronavirus, which is … Changed the smells of cities And the It can lead to a loss of the sense of smell For some people with it, it shows how smells and communities mirror each other.

During past epidemics, the myasa theory, which held that bad fumes are signs of disease transmission, was central to how people view the spread of infection.

Now, again, people are especially adapted to the scents around them and sometimes fear that if they can smell a person standing nearby, that person is there. Their environment is an aerosol That is very close, said Dr Inger Lymans, professor of cultural history at Vrije University in Amsterdam. “Once again, the smell becomes an indication of possible illness and infection.”

The lockdown measures have changed the smells of the city, as fewer cars are on the road and fewer restaurants smell out on the streets. The researchers said the changes highlight how the study of smells in societies over time provides clues about historical attitudes toward disease and other cultural aspects of daily life. The meaning has been largely ignored in academia, but it has garnered more attention in the past decade.

“With scent, you can open up questions about national culture, world culture, and differences between societies, without getting into fights immediately,” said Dr. Lymans, adding that introducing scents into museum exhibits or classrooms leads people to open up in discussions in ways they don’t always do. When discussing other issues related to national identity. “It is an open topic and has a great exploratory and communicative side.”

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Dr Lymans said researchers are not only interested in studying the good smells of centuries past, but also unpleasant odors, such as dung or manufacturing scales, and the sanitation issues that plagued some European cities. They can also be dispensed with in museums to help people connect with the past, as long as they don’t scare visitors away.

“What we want to do is think, together with olfactory artists, about how to present this story to the nose – how to make people realize what we did with industrialization in Europe,” said Dr. Lymans. “This is the challenge.”

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