Tuesday, September 1, 2009

City Smells

Artist Jason Logan created an unusual walking tour for the New York Times this week, tracing smells in Manhattan. You can explore his interactive map here.

Logan points out that city smells are particularly strong in the summer, and he faithfully lists the bad with the good as he navigates the city.

At Stop 3, he smells fermentation, apples and fear. At Stop 17, he notes enigmatically, "No scent."

Logan's piece is about the present, not the past, but his map reminds me of the work of historian Mark Smith, who has written extensively about sensory history. (For a good overview of Smith's thinking, check out this 2007 essay.)

Smith argues that we should include all of our senses in examining and understanding history. He encourages historians not only to "see" the past, but also to consider smell, taste, sound and touch.

So I wonder: What would appear on a walking tour of scents in Philadelphia in 1890 as compared to 1960? What common denominator smells would connect 17th century Philadelphians to their modern equivalents? Intriguing questions.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff. Reminds me of the pioneering work of Hans Laube (google "smell-o-vision"). Although I can't say I'm disappointed that his particular vision did not materialize, it is hard to deny the close and compelling connection between aroma and memory.