Improve your olfactory language – Hackathon

Image source:

Join us on 7 & 8 November 2022 at the National and University Library of Slovenia in Ljubljana for a nose-dive into the history and heritage of smell and the Odeuropa tools and data!

For whom? 
The event is directed at cultural heritage professionals, digital heritage collection specialists, computer science scholars, historians, (computational) linguists.

Why participate?
The hackathon will offer an intensive, two-day, nose-on and hands-on meeting, to try out cutting edge research and development in sensory data-mining, and discuss the opportunities of olfactory approaches to cultural collections and archives. Also, the rich olfactory lexicons of the past may offer new opportunities for research and exploitation. The nose-on setup of the workshop, which includes sniffing sessions and a smell walk through the library, will offer participants a chance to learn by sensing. Furthermore, we offer a reception in the library, where you can make valuable new connections with an international network of colleagues.

What can you expect?
In the morning of 7 November, we will start with a general introduction to the topic of the history, heritage and smell language, accompanied by sniffing sessions. Researchers of the Odeuropa project will highlight the opportunities of working with smells in heritage institutes, and what we can learn from the rich smell language of the past. Furthermore, the models and demonstrators of the Odeuropa project will be presented. This workshop part of the hackathon is also open for the general public.

In the afternoon of 7 November and on 8 November the participants will work in small groups to test and evaluate the Odeuropa prototype tools on concrete tasks, such as:

  • Search and find the occurrence of odors in historical texts using the Odeuropa Explorer & Smell Tracker
  • Analyse the descriptions of olfactory events in different languages and domains
  • Try out automatic annotation of documents via Odeuropa Wikifier API
  • Study relatedness between Smell event, Smell Locations and Smell Appraisals / Emotions
  • Compare smell vocabularies in different languages
  • Trace odors in literary texts and explore the opportunities to ‘represent’ these scents to collection visitors

Furthermore, the participants are invited to bring their own datasets, or request specific tasks.

Smell walk:
The event also includes a smell walk (a walk where you are led by your nose) in and around the library: to train your nose, help to explore the concept of fragrant spaces, and discover the importance of the smell of heritage spaces.

Nose-Dive into the History and Heritage of Smell!

Participation is free, however, participants are expected to bring their own laptops, and cover their own travel expenses.

Apply until 25.10.2022:

Contact email:

The Toko’s Smell and Image

Written by: Josephine Koopman

Inspired by my master’s thesis on (post)colonial smellscapes, the idea arose to create a scent inspired by the smells of the toko. The scent features as the centerpiece of a small exhibition on the history of tokos. Alongside the scent, the exhibition features a selection of historical photographs depicting tokos in the former Dutch East Indies and the Netherlands. The exhibition is on display at the Floriade Expo 2022 until 9 October 2022. 

Last year, I joined Odeuropa as an intern to investigate (post)colonial smellscapes for the purpose of researching the relationship between smell and heritage, which resulted in the thesis (Post)colonial smellscapes in text and toko: an inquiry into olfactory heritage.

Colonial history is a particularly fragrant history. The sense of smell initiated colonial ventures as European expansion sprang from the desire for spices and other aromatic commodities. In the Netherlands today, our nose encounters traces of this history in ‘tokos’, grocery shops that offer food products from Asia, and sometimes also from Suriname. Its origins are rooted in the Dutch colonial past, roots which can be gleaned from the origin of the word itself. ‘Toko’ is Malay for ‘bazaar’. The ‘toko’ as a phenomenon entered Dutch culture from the East Indies in the early twentieth century.

Spices and seasonings at Toko Dun Yong, Amsterdam. Photo: Josephine Koopman.

My research into the smellscape of tokos played out in two parts. Firstly, I led several smellwalks that visited a few tokos around the Nieuwmarkt, in the old Chinatown of Amsterdam. The smellwalks were intended to uncover the smellscape of tokos answering the questions: what do tokos smell like, and what does its smellscape evoke in the smeller? Secondly, I conducted several interviews with toko shop owners and customers to find out their interpretations and evaluations of the tokos smellscape. In my thesis I propose that we can consider the smellscape of the toko as a ‘lieu de mémoire’ or a ‘site of memory’.

Smell research in times of covid-19. Fellow student Manthos in Toko Dun Yong, Amsterdam. Photo: Josephine Koopman

Presenting a Smellscape as Heritage

Through Odeuropa, I got in touch with Flevo Campus, a research institute based in Almere that is concerned with the future of food. Their project ‘Toko van de toekomst’ (‘Toko of the future’) explores how food-related knowledge embedded in communities is reproduced throughout generations. Flevo Campus asked me to create an exhibition about tokos for their location in the Floriade Expo 2022, an international horticulture event which takes place in Almere from 14 April to 9 October 2022.

The exhibition ‘Toko’s smell and image’ at Floriade Expo 2022, Almere. Photo: Josephine Koopman

The exhibition narrates the history of tokos through photography and smell. The centerpiece is a smell station which contains a scent inspired by the smells of the toko. The scent has been developed by Jorg Hempenius from Iscent specifically for this exhibition. On the basis of the accounts I collected over the course of the participatory smell research in tokos, Jorg created a scent that is layered and eclectic, reflecting the multiplicity of smells in the toko.  It is warm, salty and a bit funky: a celebratory clamor of spices and foods. 

Read more