Re-odorization, disease and emotion in mid-nineteenth century England
AffiliationUniversity of Derby
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AbstractThis article argues that smell’s place in nineteenth-century medicine and public health was distinctly ambiguous. Standard narratives in the history of smell argue that smell became less important in this period whilst also arguing that urban spaces were deodorized. The causal motor for the latter shift is medical theories about odour and miasma. By contrast, this article argues that sanitary practices of circulation, ventilation, and disinfection proceeded despite, not because of, medical attitudes to smell. Surgeons and physicians argued that odours were no indicator of disease causing matter and distrusted the use of smell because of its subjective qualities and resistance to linguistic definition. Yet these qualities made smell all the more powerful in sanitary literature, where it was used to generate a powerful emotional effect on readers. Histories of smell need to attend not just to deodorization but re-odorization; the disjuncture between practices of smelling and their textual or visual representation; and chronologies that track the shelving and re-deploying of ways of sensing in different times, places, and communities rather than tracking the de novo emergence of a modern western sensorium. In mid nineteenth-century England smell retained its power, but that power now came from its rhetorical rather than epistemological force.
CitationTullet, W. (2018) ‘Re-odorization, disease and emotion in mid-nineteenth century England’, The Historical Journal, pp.1-24. doi: 10.1017/S0018246X18000286
PublisherCambridge University Press
JournalThe Historical Journal
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