In the article published in Chemistry World, titled The smell of history (16 January 2023), the journalist Nina Notman discusses the challenges of understanding, preservation and recreation of smells of historic and heritage objects, such as books or perhaps “potica”, the typical Slovenian cake.
The smell of historic books is one of the most easily recognisable smells of historic objects.
Among the interviewees were Dr Cecilia Bembibre (UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage), Dr Caro Verbeek (Vrije University Amsterdam), and Professor Dr Matija Strlič, HSLL Lead, involved in the EU Horizon Europe project Odeuropa and in the Slovenian/Polish project Odotheka.
The article explores the challenges of studying smells of the past using AI-based tools to recognise references to odours and odour practices, as well as emotions related to these. It explores the reasons for and practices of using smells in exhibitions and why this may be valuable to visitors. There is a significant part devoted to conservation issues, both in relation to the indoor air quality in museums and to conservation of the smells themselves.
The article concludes with professor Strlič‘s quote “This work is superbly complex. What I enjoy is the rich interdisciplinary approach that is required to tackle what might seem like a simple chemical problem.”