From the scent of perfumes to the stench of the Battle of Waterloo, the ODEUROPA project will seek to identify, describe and recreate the scents that have flowed across the continent over the past five centuries.
The project will be presented on Monday and will see historians collaborate with scientists, experts in artificial intelligence and perfumes from across the continent to archive the scents of Europe’s past.
William Tullett, an odor historian from Anglia Ruskin University and a member of the ODEUROPA team, said he hoped the archive would provide new insights and transport the public into a bygone era.
“What the public is interested in in the past is what it was like to be there,” Tullett told AFP.
“I think it will give people a more intimate experience from the past but it will also encourage people to think about the smell around them today,” he added.
With a budget of € 2.8 million ($ 3.32 million), the project will see important scents from more than 400 years of European life shared by museums across the continent.
Artificial intelligence will also be used to trawl through literature in seven languages and works of art through the centuries for references to smell.
The archive will be available to the public on the internet via the world’s first historical fragrance cycle.
ODEUROPA has brought together experts and academics from universities and institutes in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, France and Slovenia, as well as the United Kingdom, to discover how fragrances have shaped societies and traditions.
“Smells shape our experience of the world, but we have very little sensory information about the past,” says Inger Leemans, project manager and professor of cultural history at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
“We want to teach the computer to smell,” added Peter Bell, professor of digital humanities at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.
He added: “Our goal is to develop a ‘computer nose’ that can track scents and odor experiences.”
‘Smell-scape’ of the battle
Customs said the project would include simple scents, such as rosemary, which people in the 16th century believed could protect them from plague.
But it would also extend to the “smell” of large-scale events such as the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon’s last defeat in 1815 and everything in between.
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The project will ask the question of whether odors should be protected for posterity by organizations such as UNESCO, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organization.
“One of our core issues with this project is also that scents can be understood as cultural heritage?” in Tullet.
“And if they can, can we preserve them and should we preserve them for the future?”
( Jowharwith AFP)