While paintings, drawings and modern reconstruction techniques can give us a good insight into the way Europe looked in the past, something that isn’t as readily available is the way it smelled. Now, the Odeuropa network has been awarded a €2.8M grant from the EU Horizon 2020 programme for a project that will research the smells of the European past.
The project is called “ODEUROPA: Negotiating Olfactory and Sensory Experiences in Cultural Heritage Practice and Research”. It will focus on questions like “what are the key scents, fragrant spaces, and olfactory practices that have shaped our cultures?” and “How can we represent smell in all its facets in a database?”, according to their website. The Odeuropa team consists of researchers in multiple fields and from multiple European countries. To make this project possible, the team will develop an AI to detect mentions of smells and images with aromatic items within texts in seven languages, according to the Guardian.
This information will be published in an online ‘Encyclopaedia of Smell Heritage’. Finally, Odeuropa wants to recreate and preserve some of these smells together with museums, artists and perfumers and make them available to the public through events and exhibits.
“Once you start looking at printed texts published in Europe since 1500 you will find loads of references to smell, from religious scents – like the smell of incense – through to things like tobacco,” Dr William Tullett of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and member of the Odeuropa team told the Guardian.
Odeuropa is a network founded in 2020 that sets out to preserve olfactory heritage and develop new techniques to obtain information about smells from (digital) text and image collections. It also aims to show the importance of smells as a part of our heritage. This project is due to begin in January and will run for three years.