Tag Archives: scents

Around the Table Podcast: Odeuropa with William Tullett

By Sarah Peters Kernan

Listen here, or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts!

In this episode, Sarah Kernan talks to William Tullett, Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of York and a Lead in the Horizon 2020 funded project Odeuropa. This European research project was designed to show that the sense of smell and scent, or olfactory, heritage is an important way to connect, promote, and protect Europe’s cultural heritage. This episode was recorded just before the project’s funding period concluded at the end of 2023. Follow William Tullett and Odeuropa on X (formerly Twitter) for updates.


Frédéric Chopin, Etude Op. 10, no. 5 in G flat major

Provided by Musopen.org through Creative Commons Public Domain Mark 1.0


Odeuropa Website

Odeuropa Smell Explorer

Encyclopedia of Smell History and Heritage

Olfactory Storytelling Toolkit

Heritage Smell Library

Historical Scent Collection

Mentioned in the Show

Uncommon Senses Conference, Centre for Sensory Studies

American Historical Review, “Knowing by Sensing: How to Teach the History of Smell”


Museum Ulm


Sarah Kernan 00:08

This is Around the Table, a new podcast from the Recipes Project. I’m your host, Sarah Kernan. Together, we will learn about exciting scholars, professionals, projects, resources, and collections focused on historical recipes.

Today I’m speaking to Dr. William Tullett, Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of York and a Lead in the Horizon 2020 funded project Odeuropa. This European research project was designed to show that the sense of smell and scent, or olfactory, heritage is an important way to connect, promote, and protect Europe’s cultural heritage.

Will, thank you so much for joining me today!

William Tullett 00:53

Thanks for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Sarah Kernan 00:55

Could you tell us a bit about Odeuropa? What’s the purpose of this project? Who is participating? Just some general information about it.

William Tullett 01:05

Yeah, so it’s a project that, well it’s still running, although it started in 2021 in the midst of Covid and will finish at the end of this year. Because of that it feels like it’s been running for a much longer time than it has, I think. But the main idea of the project is to use a kind of multidisciplinary mix of methods that includes not just history and art history and literary studies, but also computer science, so natural language processing and computer vision to work with both digitized text and images from the past, um, and also heritage science. So, kind of working with museums, um, and what we would call GLAMs, so galleries, libraries, archives, and museums, but also with chemistry, analytical chemistry, that allows us to examine the smells that objects from the past exude, um, and to try and preserve them for the future.

William Tullett 02:04

So it’s, ah it’s, an interdisciplinary project. It involves people across 6 countries, 7 different languages, multiple different universities, so it’s been quite a feat of organization. Um, and I’m luckily not the chief PI. So the PI is Inger Leemans in Amsterdam, who with her other Amsterdam colleagues including Marieke van Erp, have been the ones kind of really organizing and making sure that we all do what we’re told. So it’s been quite a big project and an exciting project to be part of and we’re now getting to the stage where we’re finally releasing a lot of the kind of results and final outputs of the project for people to kind of look at and play with. So there are tools. There are books. There are various websites and bits of digitized data for people to look at. So we’re now at the point we’re encouraging people to engage with all of that really.

Sarah Kernan 02:59

But before we get into all of those products that are coming out of Odeuropa, um, could you speak a little bit about how the project was initially developed and how the team came together. Because this, as you mentioned, it is a very large project. It’s a very impressive group of researchers who have come together.

William Tullett 03:16

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, so the project came together really, um, from the Amsterdam side, from Inger Leemans and Marieke van Erp and Arno Bosse, who are in the Dutch side of the project. And I think one of the things that they did that was really good was, and that you don’t see all the time now we’ve got Zoom for everything, is that they invited all of the people that they wanted to be involved in the project to Amsterdam, right. So we had multiple workshops together where we kind of talked about the kind of things that we’d like to do, the kind of outputs that we wanted to see from the project. And I think one of the big challenges with these big interdisciplinary projects of the sort that European Horizon 2020 funds, is that you want projects that give outputs that are state-of-the-art, not just for the historians on the project, but also for the people who are doing compute the computer science side of it, The heritage science side of it. So trying to make sure that all of the people involved are doing work that they find kind of useful and cutting edge and is going to advance knowledge in their own disciplines. And I think smell has, you know, was a useful thing to focus those various disciplines around, partly because it’s a sense and a stimuli that really presents a whole series of problems.

William Tullett 04:36

So, like linguistically smell is a problem, right? It’s difficult to describe smells. How do we find them? How do we categorize them? What does it mean to visualize smell in an image and how do we identify them in images? Can we archive smells? How do we archive and preserve them? So kind of all of these questions that I think resonated with all the different disciplines that were involved in the project made smell a kind of, to use the slang of grants people, a kind of wicked problem for us to kind of have work with and um, really the project, the call that we applied for, because obviously you know you can’t just come up with good ideas, there has to be a call out there that fits it, and the call that we aimed at was one that was about reconnecting digital resources with museums. And so essentially what we’re trying to do is use smell as a way to connect all of these digitized texts, databases, and image databases, and archival catalogs, and so on, with the kind of experience of heritage in heritage sites and museums and spaces by bringing smells back into those spaces, And so that’s really what the kind of project has been all about and sort of geared towards.

Sarah Kernan 05:51

As you alluded to, smell is a difficult topic to work with in many ways and it’s quite ephemeral and in so many ways and contexts, it’s different to so many people. Why should we be interested in studying and preserving and contextualizing smells and olfactory heritage and experiences, especially ones in the past? Why does that matter and how does Odeuropa fit into that?

William Tullett 06:22

So I think the reason that historicizing smell, preserving smell, contextualizing smells both in the past and present matters is because smell is a kind of fundamental part of our everyday experience. It’s a fundamental part of how not just humans engage with the world but also other animals more than human animals, as well. And if one of the goals of academic research in general is to understand the ways that we and other creatures experience the world then smell should therefore kind of be a fundamental part of that. But I think also there’s been a tendency ever since really the nineteenth century in museums, and it’s a tendency that luckily is now slowly being undone, to make museums and the experience of heritage all about the visual or at least the audio visual. And so if smell is really central and fundamental to our everyday experience and indeed was central and fundamental to people’s everyday experience in the past, then you know it makes sense to try and reintegrate that into museum spaces particularly actually in cases where you know the artifacts themselves or the paintings or other objects in museums and heritage sites have had particularly important olfactory or smell-related connections. It’s the classic case of, well we can have an incense burner in a glass case, but you know the whole point was that this thing was supposed to be used to burn incense and that had a smell and indeed had other kind of visual, tactile qualities to it.

William Tullett 07:56

So, I think it’s necessary for us to kind of recontextualize all of the things in museums that we have, but I think there’s kind of a much bigger broader reason why engaging with smell is really important. And that’s that many people today are often alienated from their sense of smell. And yet if we are to respond to the massive challenges that face the globe in the you know in the next five, ten years, we need to engage more with our environment and understand our environment better. And one way to do that is through smell. So by engaging people’s noses, by engaging not just academics and students with smell, but museums and libraries and the people that work in them and the audiences that use them, by engaging those constituencies with their nose, what we’re trying to do is also create a sense of olfactory awareness and encourage people to attend to the evidence of their noses more.

William Tullett 09:04

And a simple example of why that’s important is we’re all familiar with the idea of sell by dates and use by dates on packaging for food. Now if you’re in the seventeenth century and you went to buy food, you would go to a market and you would pick stuff up and feel it and touch it and you know put your knife into butter and take out the center of it so you could smell it. You know, all of this kind of very multisensory interaction. And now in the twentieth and twenty-first century, smell in supermarkets and other spaces that sell food, you know smells are still important but they’re fundamentally about trying to get people to spend their money. They’re about creating a desire for products rather than allowing people to assay quality of products. And so when there’s now been a move to try and get people away from using sell by dates and use by dates and instead just to kind of trust their own senses in order to be more sustainable by using food if it’s still fresh. Actually it’s been really interesting to see that many people are not able necessarily to smell out whether milk is fresh or not right, or whether it’s gone off or not because they’re just not used to using their noses. So that’s a kind of simple example I think of why encouraging people to be attentive to the evidence of their nose and getting people to engage with their nose is quite important from the point of view of sustainability and environmental awareness and you know, engaging our students, engaging museums and their audiences with smell is one way to create that more sustained olfactory awareness among people. So there’s a kind of wider social role I think that smell can play and history is one way to get that to people.

Sarah Kernan 10:48

That’s a really wonderful connection from the historical to how we can use that today in present day contexts. How does Odeuropa actually collect information, research that information about smells? What is the process of what Odeuropa is doing?

William Tullett 11:07

So, one of the things that Odeuropa is trying to do is to get smell out of lots and lots and lots of digitized archives. So, for anybody who’s listening to this podcast who is a historian, you know, or has worked with historical texts online, you’ll be aware that there are a load and those of great databases now full of historical source material. For example, Early English Books Online, or particularly relevant for this podcast, the Wellcome Library’s amazing collection of digitized recipe books. But we wanted to be able to do is kind of cut down the kind of needle in the haystack work of finding smell in those documents and to extract as many examples of smell occurring in digitized texts, historical texts, as possible. And so, we composed a massive dataset of historical text that includes text in English, German, Italian, Dutch, French, Slovenian, and some Latin. And then we trained models to be able to detect references to smell in those texts. And so we have kind of seed words like smell, or stink, or you know, kind of key olfactory terms. But then we also are looking for the different, what the natural language processing people would call frame elements. So, who’s doing the smelling, where is the smelling occurring, how are they describing what they’re smelling, all of that kind of data as well. What are the emotions that are connected to the example. And so, we trained, we trained models by annotating texts ourselves and then using those to train to train the models and let them loose on this historical text data, and then it’s gathered loads and loads and loads of references to smell.

William Tullett 12:57

I mean, you know, I think we’re now at the stage in the Smell Explorer, which is our kind of online database which anybody can go and look at, of smell excerpts, I think we’re now at the stage where there’s millions of references to smells from text data in there, including text from Gallica, the big online French digitized collections, the Deutsche Historic Archive, like loads of different text. So that’s the text part, then there’s the images part which is much more difficult because how do you decide what’s smelly in an image?

Sarah Kernan 13:29

Right? Exactly.

William Tullett 13:31

Yeah, that’s a problem, right? Like and it’s a problem that kind of, I think you could easily annoy a lot of art historians by answering badly, and so one of the things that we did early on in the project was to think about, well, what are the types of objects, or animals, or gestures, or spaces, which in different periods from the 1600s to the 1920s were thought to evoke smell? So there are really obvious things like gestures around, like holding the nose, or taking snuff, or smoking tobacco, for example, or throwing up, which is something that occurs in lots of allegories of smell, particularly Dutch ones, in the seventeenth century. And, but also we’re looking at animals, so like dogs, civet cats, you know, that were particularly associated with smell, and then also flowers as well. So, we did a whole kind of side project where we were training models to look and identify different flowers in still lives.

William Tullett 14:33

That’s been an interesting and tricky part of the project, but essentially it involves drawing boxes around objects and then training computers to then find more of those objects. That’s the very short form explanation. So, for example, we trained it to find gloves because early modern gloves were almost always perfumed. So, if we can find lots and lots of examples of gloves we can, kind of, that’s one olfactory object that we can find. Or we looked at chimneys and then we looked at chimneys with smoke and without smoke to think about the representation of smell and pollution, or different smoke coming from different objects. So if it’s coming from a chimney, it’s smoke, if it’s kind of a cloud of smoke that we’ve identified that’s coming from a teapot then it’s more of a kind of steam, right? So, thinking about different forms of vapor and how you identify them in images. So that’s the text and image stuff and then the other part of it, I guess, is the heritage side of it, which has involved some quite different methods.

William Tullett 15:30

And for the heritage science side of it, we’ve kind of had a mix of social science methods. So, for example, one of our case studies was the smell of heritage vehicles, particularly cars, and we ended up interviewing lots of car enthusiasts about like kind of do they value the smells of their cars and how would they describe them? We also, but then, we also used scientific methods. So, we used various forms of pump and other that that would basically pump air over a fiber and the fiber would extract the volatile organic compounds. So then once you’ve captured the volatile organic compounds, you take them to a lab, you put them in a gas chromatography mass spectrometry machine, which then allows you to essentially see which smells are, you know, which compounds are making up the smell of that particular car, right. So, it was a mix of kind of social science stuff and more kind of what people wrongly or rightly might call hard sciences like chemistry. So, it’s a truly interdisciplinary project and it’s partly thinking about, I think, the way in which smells and the impressions that they leave are not just textual but also actually materially about us today, which I think the kind of car example really nicely gives you a sense of.

Sarah Kernan 16:56


William Tullett 16:57

So yeah, whole different mix of methods to extract smells. And hopefully we’ll keep to use, keep using that multidisciplinary mix into the future, because I think that’s kind of the future of smell studies and sensory studies.

Sarah Kernan 17:09

That’s really fascinating how many, how many different sides there are to this project and how many different disciplines are converging in one place. Um.

William Tullett 17:19

Yeah. I mean I think that’s always been a strength of sensory studies right? So, like, sensory studies you know is a field that really comes from anthropology and geography, but now has this kind of rich interdisciplinary mix of methods. And if you go to the Uncommon Senses conference which is the big kind of interdisciplinary sensory studies conference in Concordia in Montreal every two years, you’ll kind of see a whole rich array of people doing a whole different series of methodologies, from kind of more common historical literary, art historical types of thing, to people who are doing like research on senses and spider sex. And you know we had a whole panel where it was people getting to play with different types of tactile technologies like rumble chairs and tools for training dentists that involved scraping off virtual plaque and all this kind of stuff. So, I think there’s kind of a sense in which we are just drawing on a tradition within sensory studies that is very multidisciplinary in really interesting ways.

Sarah Kernan 18:21

Now that Odeuropa is coming to a close, could you talk a bit about some of its outputs, the products that have come of Odeuropa, and whether or not those have achieved Odeuropa’s main goals.

William Tullett 18:37

Well, of course we’ve achieved all of our main goals on Odeuropa, and I’m not going to suggest otherwise. I mean, I think, I think in some ways that we’ve achieved and um, exceeded in many respects what we set out to do and that’s partly because as soon as we started to talk about smell and the past when we announced the project in late November 2020, the amount of interest we got was absolutely incredible. And that’s led to lots of opportunities like the American Historical Review where we’ve done a series of articles with them that’s included the first ever published smell in a historical journal with its own DOI, right? So, you know we’ve been able to do this extra stuff that we never planned in the first place but has, I think, pushed the field forward in really interesting ways. But the main outputs that we kind of planned to do, which we’ve also managed to do in the time that we’ve had, um the Smell Explorer, which is as I’ve said before the kind of big data set online where people can browse all of the text data that we’ve gathered and image data that we’ve gathered. So that has millions of references on it and people can freely use that online and there’ll be a link in the show notes for people to look at that. We are hoping in the future we’ll be able to add more data to that. The problem is, of course, with anything like this is it costs time and money to process data to put more in, but there’s already another project going on called POEM in the Netherlands which is all about early modern English literature and poetry and smell, and we’re hoping to integrate more data from that project into the Explorer.

William Tullett 20:14

And then the other things we’ve done. We’ve got the Encyclopedia of Smell History and Heritage which I’ve kind of been the editor-in-chief of, which is an ever-expanding resource and we very much plan to keep adding entries to that. So if you want to write about a smell or a particular nose and way of smelling in the past or a particular kind of place or smellscape, then please do get in touch with me. Very happy to welcome more entries to that. But the encyclopedia also has alongside the entries what we call storylines, which are a way of representing smell not just in the form of a kind of linear text as you would get in a kind of article or a book, but in the form of kind of interactive hypertext stories. So we use the open source tool Twine, which some listeners may be familiar with, that basically allows you to create digital choose-your-own-adventure type stories as a way to create stories that kind of, you could use smell to leap between different places and times in the past, right. And kind of making real use of smell’s full potential there to crisscross across times and places. So there are lots of storylines for people to explore in the Encyclopedia as well. And then there’s the Olfactory Storytelling Toolkit which is kind of really an attempt to give people the resources, particularly in museums and heritage sites, to integrate more smell into their practice. And so that contains lots of advice on kind of how to find stories that you can tell about or with smell in your collections, about how to kind of work to create smells and then diffuse them in a space, different diffusion methods that people might want to use for example, and also has information on kind of the risks to be aware of, right, because lots of conservators and other people are quite nervous about using smells in museum spaces. So that’s like a 200 and something page PDF that you can download online. But there’s also a series of resources connected to that that people can use, for example, to create smell walks around their own museums and heritage sites, or cards that they can use to kind of do storyboarding to think about smell in their collections and how they can tell stories with smell.

William Tullett 22:31

And then the final thing, I guess, that the final big kind of public-facing thing that we’ve produced which is at the moment accessible to fewer people because it’s not online. And one of the beauties of smell is that it frequently resists digitization in an ever more online and virtual world. And, but, the final example is something that I can show on camera but you won’t be able to see because you’re listening to this. But what I’ve produced is this magical box and it contains twelve different scents that we’ve worked on with perfumers during the project. Re-creations of different historical smellscapes or smells, some of which were kind of, very much imaginary, sort of, creative interpretations. So we’ve got the smell of hell in there which is based on looking at the way the smell of hell is described in seventeenth century sermons, and then working with a perfumer to interpret them. Some of them are kind of more based on looking at recipes. So, we’ve got pomander and perfumed gloves in there. Both kind of based around an interpretation of early modern recipes. So it’s a real range of different scents and the aim is to give those kits to museums and then to work with them on integrating them into some of their curating and education practices in attempt to get smell into more, into more people’s lives right? We kind of, and all of this, the Toolkit the Smell Kit, they’re all based on things that we did during the project as well. So we had a kind of smell tools that we arranged with smells at ah Ulm Museum in Germany, we did a whole workshop on malodors and kind of how to use, which was partly about you know how do we use bad smells in a heritage context. And of course we started during the pandemic so we kind of had to innovate and use some different methods to get smells to people and so some of that material has ended up in the Toolkit, as well. Different ways to distribute scents to people for events. So it’s all based on those three years of experience and research. So yeah, there’ll be links in there. There’ll be links in the show notes. Please do look at the Encyclopedia and the Smell Explorer and download the Toolkit. And if you do do look at them or use them then get in touch with us and let us know what you do with them.

Sarah Kernan 25:00

That’s fantastic! That, that box is very impressive. It really is a little magical box of smells that you were showing. Will that be available for anyone to try to get a hold of, or is that exclusively for museums?

William Tullett 25:15

So at the moment it’s exclusively for partners that we’re working with and the people who attended our kind of big end event which was in Amsterdam last week. But we’re also doing something else with the box and the smells, in that they’re going to be preserved in the Osmothèque. So for those who don’t know what the Osmothèque is, it’s essentially the world’s largest archive of perfumes. And they, Odeuropa and the Osmothèque have collaborated so that the Osmothèque can begin to host a heritage smell collection there, which would include our smells and hopefully in the future more smells with the scents themselves and the documentation that we’ve produced with them. The hope is that more places like the Osmothèque will begin to kind of preserve smells as well and that in the end we’ll encourage a culture where archived smells are publicly accessible to people on a wider basis in the way that say video or text or audio are. I think we’ve got a long way until we can we can get to that position. But that’s kind of like a much longer term goal for us.

Sarah Kernan 26:25

Great. Has anything surprised you or the team as you have been working on Odeuropa? Have you have you come across anything whether it’s a smell or a story or a description or any new conclusions that have just really knocked everyone’s socks off?

William Tullett 26:44

It’s always very difficult to answer, isn’t it, when you’re somebody who’s kind of like, knee deep in a subject area. Stuff that you will find fascinating and that knocks your socks off will probably be quite boring to lots of other people and seem like a kind of minor discovery. But, I think that the thing for me that has been really interesting and surprising. So, the first thing has been the public reaction to it which has been really welcoming and really engaged and really fascinated with what we’re doing in a way that I’m not sure I expected. And I think hopefully that will open up opportunities for more people to do this kind of work because it will encourage more researchers to go into the field. In terms of the actual research though, I think that one of the things that, I wouldn’t say it was surprising to me but which I think the project has really allowed us to do, is to tell a richer variety of stories about smell and its histories than were otherwise kind of there in the historiography before. So, you know, a lot of the work pre-Odeuropa had kind of focused on one of two things: perfume and its histories or sanitation and public health. And so it was either the fecal or the fragrant and that was kind of your choice.

William Tullett 28:15

And I think one of the things that has been really nice about Odeuropa is it’s given us the opportunity and the resources to explore a series of other stories, and for me that work has involved kind of opening up new questions about the history of animals and smell that I hadn’t really thought about before. You know, one of the things I found really interesting on going through our material was just the sheer amount of stuff about the care of animals and being sensitive to animal sensitivities around smell in not just in kind of sixteenth, seventeenth century sources but all the way through into the late nineteenth century. And I think there’s so much work to be done to be done there and that’s something I’m going to be working on in my next project. But also stories about war and conflicts, that was another kind of area that I thought was, came out a lot in the source material that we’d collected and the relationship between war and smell over time. But I think there’s a final thing that did surprise me is that the project has completely changed my attitude to my methodology.

Sarah Kernan 29:20

Really? How so?


So, basically when I started the project, I was very much of the mindset of a lot of other sensory historians like Mark Smith, which is that but we can never really reconstruct what it was like in the past and there’s no real point in using our noses. You know, it’s all about text. It’s all about language. There’s no point in actually engaging our own senses. And indeed, that’s kind of what I say in the introduction to my first book. And now thanks to this project and thanks to working with not just the computer scientists and the heritage chemists and scientists, but also working a lot more with creative practitioners and artists with perfumers and flavor and fragrance specialists, it’s kind of completely upturned that viewpoint and now I’ve ended up publishing a whole book that basically argues we should use our noses. You know, and that there’s a lot to be gained by smelling stuff and that maybe we should publish smells instead of publishing books. Maybe that would be a more exciting and interesting way to engage people with the past that’s still based in scholarly research. So I think actually the big surprise for me has been that working with all of these wonderful people and collaborating across disciplines and outside of academia, has completely changed how I see my field and how I see research. And I think there is something to be said for that more widely for historians, actually. A lot of academics and historians are some of the worst examples of this tend to assume that their understanding of the modern world is kind of just like how the modern world is, and so then they compare say, the early modern world, with that, right, and that’s kind of led into all kinds of weird assumptions about smell, including the idea that we live in a less smelly and more deodorized world today than we did in the past. Now you can say that if you’re an academic in an air-conditioned office that’s regularly cleaned by underpaid cleaners. It’s rather more difficult to say that we live in a deodorized world if you live next to one of the massive waste dumps that we have here in the UK, or if you live in the South of the United States next to a paper pulping plant, right. So, I think yeah, that’s the thing that’s really come out of the project for me is just working with a much more diverse range of people. You have a much more diverse range of sensory experiences and that has made me kind of question how I do my work and how I should do it in the future. It’s a very long answer, but I think, you know, it actually that was the thing that surprised me the most.

Sarah Kernan 32:02

Well, I think this is a perfect tie-in to a final question. Um, so say someone who’s listening to this podcast episode is thinking learning about historical smells sounds absolutely amazing. How do I do that? What do I do next? What do you recommend?

William Tullett 32:23

Yeah, I mean the first thing I’d say if you’re thinking about learning more about the history of smell and about historical smells and how to engage with the past through smell, congratulations. You’ve made the right decision, and you’ve listened to this podcast correctly. So well done. I think that the first thing I would say is to just pay attention to the smells around you, actually. So, one of the things that I try to do in the new book is I have olfactory figures which are just moments in the book when I say go and smell this thing that might be in your cupboard, right. Because lots of the smells that are around us every day have a much, much deeper history than perhaps we appreciate. And, I mean, one example of that and the kind of specificity of those histories is wintergreen. So, wintergreen is a kind of smell and flavor that is in lots of different products. In the 1960s and 70s they found out that people in the UK hated the smell of wintergreen. It was their one of their least favorite smells. In the US it was one of the most liked smells, most preferred smells. And the reason for that was because wintergreen was in loads of medical stuff in the UK, and in the US it was in root beer and candy, right. So, what I’m saying is if you kind of start at the tip of your nose and think about, well, why do I like this this particular smell right? Why is this smell important to me, you know, and use that as a kind of road into thinking about your relationship to the past through smell I think is the first thing I would suggest.

William Tullett 33:54

But then there’s so much great material that’s been published in the field and there are various ways that you can kind of get an introduction to it. We published a conversation piece in the American Historical Review which is free to access. And that was, that’s a really nice introduction to the field. But also, there’s a whole online bibliography that I’ve curated of over seven hundred entries, so if you want a kind of giant reading list to start and to pick out something that might interest you, look out for the Past Scent Bibliography which you can find on the Odeuropa website for information on how to do, to look at that. But finally, I mean one other thing you can do is do what lots of people I suspect on this podcast do, which is do things like recreate recipes right? I mean before we came on air, I was suggesting that, you know, one of the nice things about doing this with the Recipes Project is that I think lots of people who are interested in historical recipes are much more minded to be welcoming to ideas about reconstruction. And yeah, just find a historical recipe and try and remake it and think about, you know, what do the different materials that are going into that recipe smell like individually, what does the process smell like, what does the end result smell like, just doing some basic material engagement with actual stuff, I think is really important. Because I could sit here and recommend you loads of stuff to go and read, but I think it’s actually more important you engage your nose than engage your eyes as a kind of route into this.

Sarah Kernan 35:33

Everyone heard it here first, just go out and smell things. That’s all you need to do to get started.

William Tullett 35:39


Sarah Kernan 35:40

Well, thank you so much! This is a great conversation. Thank you for joining me today to talk about Odeuropa.

William Tullett 35:48

No problem at all. Thanks for having me.

Sarah Kernan 35:50

Thanks to everyone for listening today. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast so you never miss an episode! I’ll see you again next time on Around the Table.

Winning the War with Eau de Cologne

By Jess Clark as part of the Perfumes Series

In August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. As many historians compellingly argue, the Great War was a point of major military, political, and socio-cultural disruption. This extended to commercial relationships between Britain and Germany, as firms suddenly found themselves at odds with time-honored partners. In Britain, for example, German products—and nationals—were subject to boycotts or outright violence as British consumers conveyed their national loyalties via their shopping preferences.

Fig. 1: Bottle of Johann Maria Farina’s Eau de Cologne. Public domain image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.
Fig. 1: Bottle of Johann Maria Farina’s Eau de Cologne. Public domain image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

The expression of patriotism through shopping extended to the purchase of eau de Cologne, one of Britain’s most popular commercial scents leading into the First World War. While its origins are contested, the scent is often attributed to Johann Maria Farina (1685-1766), a Cologne-based perfumer of Italian descent who (allegedly) first developed eau de Cologne in 1709.[i] The exact recipe remained a secret, but the perfume typically included a blend of bergamot, neroli, citrus, and other essential oils. For two hundred years, the Farina family firm dominated its production, with customers flocking from around Europe to purchase the authentic German good. This extended to Britain, where shoppers could purchase original Farina eau de Cologne from local firms like Floris [Fig. 2].

Fig. 2: Order from London perfumer Floris to Johann Maria Farina, Cologne, 1887. Image courtesy of Farina Archive and WikiMedia Commons.
Fig. 2: Order from London perfumer Floris to Johann Maria Farina, Cologne, 1887. Image courtesy of Farina Archive and WikiMedia Commons.

However, the scent came under scrutiny with the onset of war, given its associations with luxury, not to mention its “enemy” origins. Britain’s perfumery firms suddenly found themselves in the difficult position of offering a “luxury” to a market that was increasingly rejecting such items. The British industry endured, however, and for the most part did not suffer during the war, despite the halt in trade with Germany and its allies. In fact, reflecting on the trade’s performance in 1915, the Perfumery and Essential Oil Record estimated that, as long as the government’s “campaign against ‘luxuries’” did not go too far, the essential oil and perfumery business could continue to be “fair” in spite of global conflict.[ii] 

Fig. 3: Wartime advertisement for Gosnell’s Society Eau de Cologne. Courtesy of John Gosnell & Co. Ltd., Lewes.
Fig. 3: Advertisement for Gosnell’s Society Eau de Cologne. Courtesy of John Gosnell & Co. Ltd., Lewes.

This success also depended on ongoing promotional efforts to maintain consumer interest in British-made perfumes, including eau de Cologne. Domestic perfumery firms manufactured “British” alternatives to the German scent, with national connections becoming a key selling point in wartime marketing. For example, London-based firm John Gosnell & Co. advertised their eau de Cologne and “Real Old English Lavender Water,” two “very delightful British perfumes,” as “refreshing and welcome gifts to the wounded and other invalids.”[iii] Boots Chemists proclaimed that British-made eau de Cologne “entirely supersed[ed] any German Eau-de-Cologne.” Meanwhile, famed firm Yardley proclaimed that their eau de Cologne was not, in fact, German but French, a seemingly acceptable alternative.[iv] In this way, perfumed purchases were yet another means to demonstrate alignment with a national wartime effort—by smelling of “pure” British smells that derived from “pure” British and allied sources.

Not only did British advertisements emphasize the domestic origins of their eau de Cologne, but they also suggested a broad range of uses that made the good a necessity rather than a luxury. Promotions for Luce’s “Original Jersey Eau-de-Cologne” suggested using it as “a mouth wash after using tooth powder,” a hair rinse, a carpet deodorizer, and a means of scenting the sick room.[v] Other firms extended eau de Cologne’s usefulness beyond the British home to the Front. Leicestershire-based Zenobia Ltd. argued that “[n]o other perfume” offered “an ever welcome ‘Comfort’ for wounded Soldiers & Sailors.” In the context of war, perfumes purportedly had value, serving all-purpose functions in “reviving, cooling, and refreshing.”[vi]

Throughout the trade disruptions and nationalist marketing campaigns, one thing seems to have remained constant: the recipe for individual firms’ eau de Cologne. While firms advertised their use of English or French ingredients, there was no mention of changing the formulation of the scent. This suggests that, despite the disruptions of war and attempts to signal British loyalties, consumers still smelled of the original recipes for eau de Cologne. In this way, longstanding olfactory trends prevailed, as British consumers sought out new ways to smell of time-honored scents.


[i] Catherine Maxwell, Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture (London: Oxford, 2017), 97.     

[ii] “Commercial and Legislative Features of 1915,” The Perfumery & Essential Oil Record Year Book and Diary 1916 (London: G. Street & Co., Ltd., 1916),v.

[iii] 20 December 1914, John Gosnell & Co. Ltd., Lewes, East Sussex. 

[iv] See “Gifts for the PeaceTide,” The Graphic 98, no. 2559 (14 December 1918): 38.

[v] “The Uses of Luce’s,” The Illustrated London News 149, no. 4051 (9 December 1916): 713.

[vi] Advertisement, The Illustrated London News 145, no. 3939 (17 October 1914): 560.               

Beauty and Global Trade in Margaret Baker’s Book

This is the second part of a two-part post by a former student of mine, who also happens to be an author of popular history.  Karen has written on fun things like fashion and Essex Girls in history. Her original, longer post is taken from a digital group project on Margaret Baker’s recipe book that was completed for my 2016-7 module, The Digital Recipe Book Project.

By Karen Bowman


The unlovely looking ambergris. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In my last post, I examined themes of alchemy and beauty in Margaret Baker’s early modern recipe book.  Today I want to consider what her beauty recipes can tell us about England’s growing global connections in the late seventeenth century.  At first glance, the  list of ingredients in Baker’s recipes appear domestic. But those seemingly-simple household recipes had extensive connections to trade and empire. For those who could afford them, there were an increasing number of luxury ingredients available from around the world.

Through her beauty recipes, Baker was buying into the expansion of the luxury market. With a growing foothold in India via the East India Company, traders imported silks and spices. In turn, they sold these commodities onto grocers and apothecaries from whom Baker was able to purchase ingredients to make her perfumes.

I was alerted to her participation with empire through her use of luxury ingredients in her culinary recipes, such as wines and quantities of sugar in order to make “sugar cakes” (f.88). In her perfume, she included civet (musky smelling substance from anal glands from civets) and ambergris (waxy substance secreted from the intestines of sperm whales).

Civet and ambergris were regularly used in perfume manufacture. In the seventeenth century, the aromas of musk and spice most effectively covered body odour.  It would not be until the eighteenth century that alternative base notes would be used, allowing some perfumes to become increasingly more fragrant in conjunction with improvements in basic hygiene. Both ingredients continue to be used today, even with our vast range of scent choices.

We can see the use of civet in Baker’s recipe for perfumed gloves, as well (f.98). Spanish and Italian glovers settling in England in the sixteenth century had established the practice to sweeten the smell of leather, as the tanning process could leave an unpleasant scent. The most common fragrances were cinnamon or cloves, but the more expensive gloves were infused with musk, civet, ambergris and spirit of roses.

Seventeenth-century embroidered gloves. Credit: Metropolitan Museum.

The fact that Baker was perfuming her gloves is a significant social comment. By indicating in the first line of her recipe that damask rose water should used could signify to readers that her gloves were expensive, hinting at a level of wealth. Of course, it is equally plausible that her gloves were only made of linen. In that case, we can see an earlier connection to the Lady Croon’s pomatum that I discussed last week. In both cases their inclusion may point to Baker as a woman with social aspirations.

Baker’s instructions for perfuming gloves are similar to those found in seventeenth-century manuals, such as Sir Hugh Plat’s Delights For Ladies, which were considered part of a woman’s ‘secret knowledge’ (Rankin and Leong, 172). Plat provided instructions for perfuming up to eight pairs of kid-skin gloves at a time, proof that women knew how to redress the leather at home (Dugan, 150).

In a manuscript recipe book from 1685, Mary Doggett included instructions for perfuming gloves in the ‘spanish manner’. The gloves should be anointed until they ‘swim with amber [ambergris] and ‘drink up the ointment’–emphasizing the Spanish ingredients: ambergris, civit, and musk. Again echoing Baker’s recipe, Doggett suggested that the gloves should then be ‘Rowled up in fair paper very close so they do not lose their smell’ and next ‘layed 3 nights under the first bed quilt of the bed you lie on’ (Dugan,150).

Baker’s links with global trade rest with the transference of geographical, specialist, and domestic knowledge, as well as a household’s connections with foreign markets. The sourcing of ingredients resulted in the smells of luxury infusing the early modern kitchen (Dugan, 151).

It also gives us a social link to Baker via her gloves. Was she wealthy enough to afford expensive gloves that she would have wanted to keep scented? Or, was she simply buying into the early modern expansion of empire and perfuming cheaper gloves to give an impression of status? Whether the recipe was aspirational or reveling, Baker’s scented gloves were not just ornamental. The ingredients used in their perfuming highlight the ways in which recipes, global trade, and social status were tightly entwined.