What if you could smell historical scents: smells that were of importance to your ancestors, but have long since evaporated? If you could capture the smellscape of a natural space or monument: which would you choose? How valuable would it be to store these culturally significant scents and safeguard them for future generations?
The Heritage Smell Library is an initiative of the Odeuropa project, aiming to document and safeguard historically significant smells. The library holds a collection of smells that have been described as significant for cultural communities, groups and individuals. The Osmothèque Conservatoire International des Parfums, where physical samples are stored and made available for future reference. Furthermore, the Odeuropa project has developed and published an ‘Olfactory Heritage Toolkit’: a combination of resources to help cultural heritage professionals and policy makers recognize, document and safeguard olfactory heritage.”
The starting point of the Heritage Smell Library are the olfactory representations of heritage smells and smellscapes developed by the Odeuropa project between 2020-2023. The library holds both ‘single’ smells that are or have been significant for specific cultures (frankincense, myrrh, civet), and scent compositions. Scent compositions can be ‘reconstructions’ based on chemical analysis of cultural objects or smellscapes of monuments and heritage sites (such as the Royal Car P5B, a reconstruction of the smellscape of the interior of a historic car used by Queen Elizabeth II, based on analytical data), or ‘recreations’, based on historical recipes (such as Helene’s gloves, a 16th-century Italian recipe for perfuming gloves) or on the historical analysis of fragrant practices and spaces (the smell of hell).
The Heritage Smell Library does not only hold physical samples of these historical smells, it also provides detailed descriptions of the olfactory reconstructions, and of their cultural significance. Visitors to the Osmothèque Conservatoire International des Parfums can have access on request to the smells, while heritage institutes can potentially make use of the reconstructions in their exhibitions.
A Living Archive
The Heritage Smell Library will be launched on 28 November 2023. The library is intended to support preservation, documentation, and dissemination of smells that are considered to be of considerable cultural value. Odeuropa is not the only project developing heritage scents: in the past few years, the Osmothèque Conservatoire International des Parfums, academic research groups, heritage institutes, perfumers and olfactory artists have started to experiment with reconstruction methods and historical scent representations. See for instance the projects Odotheka, In Search of Scents Lost, and Smell of Heritage, and the olfactory exhibitions in museums such as the Mauritshuis The Hague, the Prado Madrid, and the Louvre Paris.
The library will start with 19 scents created and analysed within the Odeuropa project. After the launch, a designated Advisory Board will review applications for new scents to be added to the collection. Twelve samples of the Heritage Smell Library scents will be presented in the Odeuropa x IFF Smell Kit.
The Odeuropa project aims to enhance the impact and understanding of (intangible) cultural heritage. For all the heritage scents included in the Heritage Smell Library it is therefore essential that they are presented with the documentation on their cultural historical significance. This is essential for:
- Archiving – Odeuropa is committed to archive cultural significant scents for future research
- Reuse – in the future it should be possible for GLAMs and other parties to make use of the safeguarded heritage scents
- Communication – to foster a broader public’s development of olfactory knowledge rather than mere immersive experiences
These issues require a standard for scent development. This is a challenge since there is no agreed terminology for heritage scents and their development processes. Odeuropa is developing a framework for this. Osmothèque Conservatoire international des parfums is working on a nomenclature.
Heritage Smell Library – first collection (2023):