“I’m curious about the lived sensory experiences of the people who populated the past, which, in many cases, may have been different to our own.”
– Suzanne Whitby
Sensescapes is the research website of Suzanne Whitby who is exploring the lived experiences of people in the ancient world. She uses this little corner of the world wide web to capture curious sensory stories from all periods and share interesting research from other clever people in the sensory studies space.
Suzanne came to sensory studies whilst developing a research question for her Classics dissertation. An amateur “nose” with an interest in scent, aromatherapy and perfume-making, she started asking herself the question “what did the ancient world smell like”, and whether she could model smells using 3D models, abstract representations, and maps. This led her to the vibrant world of studies into the senses. Although smell is her first love, she quickly realised that isolating senses is a challenge, and decided to embrace, rather than fight, the experience.
Her multi-sensory journey led her to the work of David Howes, Constance Classen, Eleanor Betts, and a plethora of others. Far from having a brilliant, never-before-thought-of idea, she discovered that her ideas of walking and modelling smells was not original in the least! In 1790, Jean-Noël Hallé went out for a scent walk on the banks of the Seine and nearly didn’t make it back. As for mapping and cartographical visualisations Kate McLean and the sadly late Victoria Henshaw are inspiring pioneers in the urban sensescape arena.
Just for fun, Suzanne leads multi-sensory walks in her adopted home of Tirol that invite walkers to experience familiar (and unfamiliar) spaces in new ways through smell, sound, and touch, and very occasionally, through taste and sight, too. Inspired by the wonderful Kate McLean and her work into sensory maps, she might eventually turn the information she collections into visual, tactile and digital maps that capture the sensory here-and-now. Who knows?