Theses Master's

Interrogating the Olfactory Landscape: Means and Methods for Analyzing Changing Smellscapes as a Character-Defining Feature of Place

Papke, Lindsay

The work of preservation should not be reduced to an object’s physical existence within a landscape. Rather, the scope of the cultural heritage field provides practitioners with the opportunity to understand the evolving relationships between people and place. Ultimately, the reason why a place or object is deemed significant or not relies on the ways in which people have interacted with it and thereby ascribe that entity with value. Defining the concept of cultural heritage in this way requires preservationists to develop methods of inquiry that interrogate why and how these social-spatial relationships occur and evolve, which requires research that moves beyond the scope of visual knowledge.

This thesis offers means of research that will inform methodologies rooted in the interrogation of social-spatial relationships from an academically underserved dimension of place—the sense of smell. By identifying and testing approaches to interrogate the olfactory landscape within a case study of East Harlem, this thesis grounds itself in the assumption that smell matters while recognizing that current preservation policy favors the visual.

This visual bias undermines the potential outcomes preservation policy possesses highlighting the need for different methods of inquiry that decenter the visual as a primary means of engagement with cultural heritage. Through this decentering, the olfactive and visual characteristics of place augment one another, with the capacity to lend insight into why environments may have developed in a certain fashion over time. This current research demonstrates that approaching a site from olfactory methods of inquiry highlights forms of place-based significance defined by eras of change in which smellscapes transformed in response to multiple publics.

In a field fixated on determining sites of significance, methods of olfactory interrogation inform this practice and help preservation professionals understand the complexity of social-spatial interactions. Olfactory research may be well-positioned to act as a bridge between multiple cultural heritage practices and spatial environments to effectively trouble the binary of “tangible” and “intangible” heritage by centering social histories rather than the object as heritage.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Avrami, Erica C.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2022