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“The Proust Effect and Olfactory Neutrality: Introduction to the History of Scents.” A talk by Maria Pirogovskaya

Art Experiment. You’re on Air
25 December 2019


Historian and anthropologist Maria Pirogovskaya will speak of how humans have distinguished “good” and “bad” smells throughout history, how our evaluation of scents changed over time, and how sensory perception is connected to politics.

What can scents tell us? And do scents actually speak, or are we using them to say certain things? Why does the word “smell” itself has unpleasant or disturbing connotations in different languages?

Discussing these questions, Maria Pirogovskaya will look at scents from human and non-human perspectives. Aristotle argued that humans have a weak sense of smell compared to animals, as they cannot experience scents without feeling pleasure or disgust. But is the human nose really in any way impaired if we can distinguish subtle differences in the smells of fruits and spices, water and soil, cakes and washing powders, and make important judgements based on the olfactory information we get?

The talk is part of the public program for Art Experiment: You’re on Air


Maria Pirogovskaya is a historian, anthropologist, lecturer in anthropology at the European University at Saint Petersburg. She is the author of Miasma, Symptoms, Evidence: Scents between Medicine and Morals in the Russian Culture of the 2nd Half of the 19th Century (2018).


Free admission with advance registration.
It is accessible for deaf and hard of hearing visitors and will be interpreted into Russian Sign Language.


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