Preserving Smelly History

We can preserve and experience historical sights and sounds. But how do we know what, for example, Eighteenth Century Manhattan smelled like? Thanks to technologies developed by the perfume industry, there are now ways to preserve smells so that future generations can experience them:

A pioneer of this approach is Roman Kaiser, a Swiss fragrance chemist who developed a technology called “headspace” in the 1970s that made it possible to capture and analyze the scent given off by flowers and other objects. Using a glass container, a pump, and a sampling trap that gathers molecules using a solvent or coated surface, the system allows a chemist or perfumer to gather the volatile scent molecules exuded by an object without harming it.[...]

Perfumers like New York-based Christopher Brosius have used headspace to re-create less obvious smells, like the odor of an old fur coat or a well-worn paperback. Their goal is an artistic one, but the same approach could serve as the beginning of a database. Imagine having a library of scents specific to a particular time or place, from the strangely sweet aroma of a plastic-wrapped CD case to the blend of horse dung and candy that permeates Boston’s Faneuil Hall.


Other historians are attempting to recreate scents from the past, from a cologne used by Napoleon Bonaparte to a Viking-era latrine. What historical smell would you like to experience?

Link -via Althouse | Photo by Flickr user Dennis Wong used under Creative Commons license

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Wasn't this something shown in Harold and Maude? Since the movie came out in 1971 they probably were referencing the headspace invention from 1970.
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