Our senses are our gateways to the past. Much more so than any other sense, our sense of smell is linked directly to our emotions and our memories. While museums are slowly discovering the power of multi-sensory presentations, we lack the scientific standards, tools, and data to effectively identify, consolidate, and promote the wide-ranging role scents and smelling have in our cultural heritage. For these reasons, olfactory heritage remains severely under-valued as a resource in both tangible and intangible cultural heritage contexts. Fortunately, some key prerequisites for addressing this problem are already in place. In recent years, European cultural heritage institutions have invested heavily in large-scale digitisation: we now hold a wealth of object, text and image data which can now be analysed using sophisticated computer science techniques. What remains missing is a broader awareness of the wealth of historical olfactory descriptions, experiences and memories contained within them. We recognize this as both a challenge and an opportunity.
Odeuropa will apply state-of-the-art AI techniques to cultural heritage text and image datasets spanning four centuries of European history, to identify and trace how ‘smell’ was expressed in different languages, with what places it was associated, what kinds of events and practices it characterised, and to what emotions it was linked. This multi-modal information will be curated, following semantic web standards, stored in the ‘European Olfactory Knowledge Graph’ (EOKG), and then drawn on to create new ‘storylines’ informed by cultural history research. The storyline resources will be prepared in different formats for different audiences: as an online ‘Encyclopaedia of European Smell Heritage’, as ‘interactive notebook’ demonstrators, and in the form of toolkits and training documentation describing best-practices in olfactory museology. We will develop new, evidence-based methodologies to quantify the impact of multisensory visitor engagement, and use this data to support the implementation of policy recommendations for the recognition, promotion, presentation and safe-guarding of our olfactory heritage.
The goal of the Odeuropa project is to show that critically engaging our sense of smell and our scent heritage is an important and a viable means for connecting and promoting Europe’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.