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date: 17 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the smell of medieval cities and its role in shaping individual, collective, and social knowledge about navigating these realms. To breathe in medieval cities was a communal affair; men and women inhaled all aspects of this crowded, shared space, including the smell of its many animal and human inhabitants, its industries, and their collective detritus. Using literary and historical sources to create a medieval urban odour descriptor wheel, I argue that the smell of medieval cities was both more pungent and pleasurable than we usually assume; this wheel will hopefully help readers orient themselves towards new understandings about the vitality of smell in the past as well as in the present. Literary sources might usefully be combined with archaeological evidence and recent tools developed by urban geographers and computational social scientists that seek to translate visceral experiences into sensory maps of shared urban realms.

Keywords: urban, smell, olfaction, John Stow, sensory history, senses, built environment, smell wheel

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