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Smell of Heritage

Bembibre Jacobo, Cecilia; (2020) Smell of Heritage. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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We don’t know much about the smells of the past. Yet, odours play an important role in our daily lives: they affect us emotionally, psychologically and physically, and influence the way we engage with history. Can this lead us to consider certain smells as cultural heritage? And if so, what would be the processes for the identification, protection and conservation of those heritage smells? In order to answer these questions, the connection between olfaction and heritage was approached through the framework of Significance Assessment – Chemical Analysis – Sensory Analysis – Archiving. Four case studies were developed, each around a different smell: old books and historic libraries; scented conservation wax, historic pot-pourri, and mould. Through them, the validity of the framework was tested, while exploring associated aspects of olfaction in heritage: authenticity, value in connection with visitor experience and interpretation, considerations around historic odour reconstruction and role of non-sensory input in historic odour perception. Odour characterisation was achieved by chemical analysis of the volatile organic compounds (VOC) for each case study, using either HS-SPME-GS-MS or HS-TD-GC-TOF-MS. Sensory characterisation was obtained via GC-O and odour evaluation panels. Visitor experience surveys were also conducted in a historic house setting. Smells were documented using odour wheels and other forms of visual representation. Some findings of this study worth discussing are: (1) the perception of authenticity in historic odours is not necessarily linked to a chemically-accurate reconstruction; (2) several historic odours present an ambiguity that lead to characterisation being significally modulated by both sensory and non-sensory information and (3) there is a great potential for non-visual engagement of visitors with the space and collections in heritage institutions, currently untapped. This is the first systematic study of olfaction in heritage and therefore its insights will be relevant to the heritage community, as well as engaging with current research in the field of odour perception, interpretation and representation.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Smell of Heritage
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2020. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
Keywords: smell, voc, odour, heritage
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10093605
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