Visual representations of smell are one of the core themes of our presence on Instagram: Wheel, circle, and pie have recently appeared as recurring and influential visual metaphors. The fragrance wheel created by Michael Edwards is perhaps the most prominent example these days. But the history of visualizations demonstrates that this is only one example out of many. The visual metaphor of the circle or the wheel has been used to classify urine smells. The colour, smell, and even taste of urine was used to both identify particular illnesses and provide patient prognoses, from Hippocrates to the Victorian era. The practice, called uroscopy or uromancy, was, according to the Doctor’s Review, “once the number-one way to diagnose disease — and predict the future”.
The University of St. Gallen has long been known for its integrative view of economics, business administration, law, social science and the humanities. Smell Culture is now part of its contextual studies program.
This Fall, many of you may be teaching a course on sensation and perception or lecturing on scent culture. Why not put What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life on your reading list (as we did!)? It’s an entertaining way to introduce students to classical topics such as odor memory and identification, important aroma molecules, history of scent measurement, and more.
Since ancient times there has been the common belief that the experience of a smell is impossible to put into words. The New Yorker presents an overview of more recent cross-cultural research challenging this belief: Culture, not biology, rules the relation between smell and language