Saturday, December 30, 2023

"A New Encyclopedia Explores Europe’s Smelly History"

 The past stinks.

From Smithsonian Magazine, December 12:

Odeuropa is an online database of scents from 16th- to early 20th-century Europe culled from historical literature and art

Example predictions of smell-related objects from the object detection models developed by the Odeuropa project computer vision team. Image credits: J.P. Filedt Kok, 2007, 'Floris Claesz. van Dijck, Still Life with Cheeses, c. 1615', in J. Bikker (ed.), Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century in the Rijksmuseum, online coll. cat. Amsterdam: (accessed 23 October 2023 11:21:47). 

Scent can transport us. One whiff of, say, pine needles, might bring you right back to a snowshoeing adventure in the forests of Washington’s Cascade Mountains, or to a treasured Christmas morning. Smell is a powerful tool for experiencing the world around us, and as such, more so than any sense, it is inextricably linked to our memories.

So when the European Union put out a call to researchers to help museums enhance the impact of their digital collections, “We immediately thought: smell,” says Inger Leemans, a professor of cultural history at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the principal investigator for Odeuropa, an E.U.-funded research project aimed at showcasing the significance of olfactory heritage in European culture.

At its core, Odeuropa is an encyclopedia of smells. The online database pulls together the vast scent-related image and textual data of museums, universities and other heritage institutions, “to help people discover the olfactory cultures and vocabularies of the past,” says Leemans. This includes everything from disease-fighting perfumes to the stench of industrialization in historic literature and paintings.

When the project was first publicly announced in November 2020, the team described its plans to use artificial intelligence to identify and analyze references to smells from 16th- to early 20th-century Europe in historical texts and images. The aim, Leemans told the Independent at the time, was to “dive into digital heritage collections to discover key scents of Europe and bring them back to the nose.” Now, three years on, Odeuropa has officially launched its products—a Smell Explorer search engine, which offers insight into how the past smelled, as well as how people described, depicted and experienced those smells, and the Encyclopedia of Smell History and Heritage, with entries ranging from car interiors to coffeehouses. Odeuropa also hosted a one-day Smell Culture Fair in Amsterdam on November 28 to share the overall project’s final results....

Previously on stinky, smelly awfulness:

"The past stinks – a brief history of smells"

Things I Did Not Know: Sebaceous Cyst Edition (or: how to write about really bad smells)

Now There's Vomitoxin In the Corn

Along with cadaverine and putrescine this is one of the most perfectly named of Mother Nature's offerings.
It does exactly what is said on the tin.
If you can get pigs to eat grain that has the stuff on it, well you can guess what happens.
"Too hot? In 1858 a heatwave turned London into a stinking sewer"

Long Hot Summers
Between 1500 and 1900 Paris went from 8th largest city in the world with a population of around 185,000 to 3rd largest in the world with a population of, depending on how far out from the city center you measured, 2.7 to 3.6 million.
Back in the day those big cities were aromatic, see the first link below, if interested.
"When Paris’s Streets Were Paved With Filth"
Faux Paris
"What Makes Paris Look Like Paris?"