'Der Geruch', c. 1616-1668, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Germany - CC BY-NC-SA. [SOURCE]
'Der Geruch', c. 1616-1668, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Germany - CC BY-NC-SA. [SOURCE]
"Our senses are the connective tissue between our past and present. Much more so than any other sense, our sense of smell is linked directly to our emotions and our memories."

'Perfume bottle', crystalline bottle with a brass cap and rubber pump, c.1920s-1930s, Helsinki City Museum, Finland - CC BY 4.0. [SOURCE]
'Perfume bottle', crystalline bottle with a brass cap and rubber pump, c.1920s-1930s, Helsinki City Museum, Finland - CC BY 4.0. [SOURCE]

The Encyclopedia of Smell History and Heritage was launched in 2023 to bring together academic expertise on smell from multiple disciplines. This first public-access knowledge base for smell history and heritage promotes the free and open dissemination of knowledge about past smells and their role in the present. Rather than being a finished, closed, statement about smell history and heritage, it aims to act as a stepping stone that will support and promote further research in the area.

Scents and smelling are slowly making their way back into museums, but they have yet to be fully integrated into heritage practice and policy. In recent decades a vibrant academic field of smell studies has started to trace the role of smells in the past, but the resulting research is often relatively hidden behind paywalls or in scholarly monographs.

The Encyclopedia of Smell History and Heritage seeks to identify, consolidate, and promote knowledge of the wide- ranging role scents and smelling have in our cultural heritage and history.

'Cholera preventive costume', hand coloured print on paper, 1832, London, Science Museum, CC-BY 4.0. [SOURCE]
Smell brings us the pleasure of good food, wine, and perfume; it warns us of dangers from fire, gas, and rot; and it strengthens our connection to friends, family, and our communities. For all of these reasons, smell has a rich, fascinating and valuable history.
'Cholera preventive costume', hand coloured print on paper, 1832, London, Science Museum, CC-BY 4.0. [SOURCE]

The Encyclopedia is composed of two principal types of resource:
These are wikipedia-like descriptions, clustered around particular smells, smellscapes, noses, and olfactory objects, and written by experts. The text of each of these Clusters is structured into sets of shorter Entries (Smells, Places, Practices, and Feelings/Noses) and includes text, images, and connected data that you can explore.
These are 'follow-your-nose' stories that allow you to explore smell history through a series of interlocking themes. As you click your way through the stories you can cross into new themes and use the overview map to locate yourself within thesmellscapes of the past.

Underwood and Underwood, 'The five senses - Smelling', photograph on paper, 1890, The five senses- Smelling Underwood & Underwood Publishers by Desconegut - Girona City Council, Spain - Public Domain. [SOURCE]

Key concepts
  • Smell History
  • Smell Heritage
  • Smellscapes

At the core of smell history or the history of smell is the claim that smells and smelling are deeply historical. The ways in which people have used their noses, the meanings given to smells, and the material odours that surround people - what we can collectively call their 'smellscapes' - have all changed over time.

Take the example of plague and its histories. Seventeenth-century apothecaries sniffed out the powers of medicines in ways that are lost to the average twenty-first century pharmacist, who deals with looking at packaging and prescriptions rather than smelling herbs and spices; the scent of rosemary was associated with prophylactic protection against plague for early modern Europeans rather than being a mere flavouring for food; and the smells of urban spaces were not (or at least not only) stronger or more numerous but qualitatively different in character to those that surround us in cities today. Whilst 'organic' smells might have been common in early modern cities, today we are surrounded by the odours of air pollution, fast food, and synthetic fragrance.

Early histories of smell fleshed out the Freudian fable of a modern world that feared smells. In 1982 Alain Corbin published his hugely important work Le miasme et la jonquille: l'odorat et l'imaginaire social, XVIlle- XIXe siècles (translated into English as The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination). He argued that from the 1750s European modernity was characterised by a war on odours, motivated by medical fears of disease-inducing-miasma, that led bodies and spaces to be deodorized. When David Howes, Constance Classen, and Anthony Synnott came to write their equally groundbreaking 1994 volume, Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell, they began by describing the modern world bequeathed to us by Corbin's deodorising nineteenth-century subjects: 'the sense of smell is repressed in the modern west, and its social history ignored". Aroma matched Corbin's narrative about the deodorization of the western world with a story about how, in areas such as religious life and horticulture, smell lost its significance with the arrival of modernity.

However, smell history has now moved beyond these initial narratives and begun to explore the nuance and complexity of the olfactory past. Today, the history of smell is an expanding field. Single-scent histories have recovered past perceptions of odours ranging from ambergris and civet to sulphur and the durian fruit. Books and articles have explored the smellscapes of spaces ranging from late medieval churches and Ottoman mosques to nineteenth-century American streets and twentieth-century heavy-water plants. Above all, smell history is now beginning to incorporate a variety of new methodological perspectives. Histories of smell are now beginning to drawn on insights from the environmental humanities, postcolonial literary criticism, and queer theory as new scholars began to explore the full depth and breadth of the olfactory past.

Smell heritage is a sensory dimension of artefacts, practices and spaces which conveys unique values and meanings and/or are significant to communities, groups and individuals as part of their heritage. We can distinguish four different groups of smell-heritage relations.

Firstly, smells central to cultural practices which are significant for a certain community (for instance: incense burning in churches, mosques and temples, aromatherapy, or the use of the nose in certain crafts and during festive events). Secondly, smells as objects with cultural significance (for instance: myrrh, civet, historic perfumes, tobacco, gunpowder). Thirdly, smells as attributes of historical artefacts (for instance: the smell of old books, pomanders). Finally, smells as attributes of natural and cultural sites (‘smellscapes’) that are significant for these (built) environments and that possess unique values (for instance: the smellscape of a historical library, cocoa factory, food market, monument, botanical garden, or volcanic pit).

A historical or heritage smellscape is a collection of smells linked to a specific place with value or significance for an individual or community. These smells are made up of odours (the material emissions of smell characterized as chemical compounds) and noses (the values, meanings, feelings, identities with which those smells are associated). The uniqueness of the smellscape may be constituted by unique smells; a unique arrangement of smells; or the unique meanings or practices associated with that particular smell by the community in question. The smells within a heritage smellscape may belong to one or several of three categories: keynote smells, smell signals, or smellmarks. Keynote smells are those that are central to a smellscape and which form the olfactory background. They may not be actively noticed in the course of everyday life but it would be noted by the community if they disappeared. Smell Signals are foreground smells that involve conscious and active sniffing by the community. Smellmarks are those smells that have a unique and special significance for a community. They are therefore especially deserving of protection.

  • Smell History
  • Smell Heritage
  • Smellscapes

Jan Miense Molenaer, 'The Five Senses: Smell', painting on panel, 1637, Maurithuis, Hague. Public Domain. The Five Senses: Smell by Jan Miense Molenaer - Mauritshuis, Netherlands - Public Domain. [SOURCE]
F. S. Depech after L. Boilly, 'A group of five heads; three men smoking pipes and a cigar and two ugly women taking snuff', coloured lithograph, 1825, Wellcome Collection, CC BY 4.0. A group of five heads; three men smoking pipes and a cigar and two ugly women taking snuff. Coloured lithograph by F-S. Delpech, c. 1825, after L. Boilly. by Louis-Léopold Boilly - Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom - CC BY. [SOURCE]


Contact & Colophon

The Encyclopedia of Smell History and Heritage is an ongoing project, hence we are always keen to gather more Clusters of Entries. If you have an idea for a Cluster of Entries for the Encyclopedia then get in touch via the email below.

If you have used the Encyclopedia of Smell History and Heritage, we'd love to hear:

• What you used it for.

• What you thought was good or useful.

• What you felt was missing or needed improving.

You can email us any other feedback or when your are experiencing technical difficulties, at:

Dr William Tullett



William Tullett, University of York, Editor in Chief
Alex McQueen, KNAW, Editorial Assitant


William Tullett, University of York
Inger Leemans, KNAW/VU
Marieke van Erp, KNAW/VU
Sofia Collette Ehrich, KNAW
Ronald Sluijter, KNAW
Arno Bosse, KNAW
Ali Hürriyetoglu, KNAW
Sophie Elpers, KNAW
Vincent Christlein, FAU
Andrea Büttner, FAU
Peter Bell, FAU
Helene Loos, FAU
Mathias Zinnen, FAU
Prathmesh Madhu, FAU
Sara Tonelli, FBK
Elisa Leonardelli, FBK

Design and Art Direction

BSTN // Basten Stokhuijzen


Thibault Ehrhart


Denim Ink by Displaay
Martina Plantijn by Klim Type Foundry
Slussen Mono by Blaze Type

This site has been launched thanks to the generous support of Odeuropa, an academic project funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 101004469) that ran from 2021 to 2023. The project used methods from the humanities, computer science, and heritage studies to trace the smell history and heritage of Europe from the 1600s to the 1920s. The Entries and Storyliens in the Encyclopedia draw on the databases of historical texts and images processed by the Odeuropa project. The smell descriptions that the project extracted from these sources canbe viewed via the project's Smell Explorer.