Heritage Science (Apr 2017)
Smell of heritage: a framework for the identification, analysis and archival of historic odours
Abstract We don’t know much about the smells of the past. Yet, odours play an important role in our daily lives: they affect us emotionally, psychologically and physically, and influence the way we engage with history. Can this lead us to consider certain smells as cultural heritage? And if so, what would be the processes for the identification, protection and conservation of those heritage smells? In order to answer these questions, the connection between olfaction and heritage was approached in three ways: (1) through theoretical analysis of the concept and role of olfaction in heritage guidelines, leading to identification of places and practices where smell is fundamental to their identity, (2) through exploration of the evidence for use of smells in heritage as a tool to communicate with audiences; and (3) through experimental evaluation of the techniques and methods for analysing and archiving the smells, therefore enabling their documentation and preservation. We present this through the framework of Significance Assessment—Chemical Analysis—Sensory Analysis—Archiving. The smell of historic paper was chosen as the case study, based on its well-recognized cultural significance and available research. Odour characterization was achieved by collecting visitor descriptions of a historic book extract through a survey, and by conducting a sensory evaluation at a historic library. These were combined with the chemical information on the VOCs sampled from both a historic book and a historic library, to create the Historic Book Odour Wheel, a novel documentation tool representing the first step towards documenting and archiving historic smells.