Olfaction and Heritage

In the heritage context, experiencing what the world smelled like in the past enriches our knowledge of it, and, because of the unique relation between odours and memories, allows us to engage with our history in a more emotional way. Odours are also powerful cues to remember an exhibition, and can make the visiting experience more enjoyable.

However, unlike in other countries, there is currently no strategy in the UK for the protection or preservation of smells with cultural value, such as the one of many historic libraries. In heritage guidelines, aromas are often recognized as a value associated with a place, or with certain practices, as an aspect of cultural significance (an overall measure of the value of a particular place to the public) by the widely adopted Burra Charter (1999).

In this sense, smell can be considered as an intangible property of tangible heritage and inextricably linked to it. At the moment, the first application to recognise olfactory traditions as intangible heritage, presented by the perfume-making region of Grasse in France, is being discussed at UNESCO.

This project, we propose that smells are part of our cultural heritage, and that a structured approach to researching them is required.