Monday, July 20, 2020

History of smell

Regulate THIS!

In 1657 a London barber was prosecuted for making and selling ‘a liquor called “coffee, to the ‘great nuisance and prejudice of the neighbourhood.’
At the London Review of Books, Keith Thomas considers the history of smells. He's reviewing Smells: A Cultural History of Odours in Early Modern Times (mostly in France, actually, he says) by Robert Muchembled, translated by Susan Pickford, and also The Clean Body: A Modern History by UBC historian Peter Ward. 

The scent of coffee quickly became acceptable, if not essential, in urban neighbourhoods, Thomas tells us. But "nuisance" as a legal concept has created a long history of attempts to regulate smell. Adjudicating whose smells are acceptable and whose not has been a legal issue for centuries, as essays in this book, particularly Eric Reiter's on Montreal's stables, demonstrate. 

In the mid 19th century, rural aristocrats across Europe at first expected the courts to defend their estates from the smell and noise of new railroads, quarries, and mills, but gradually had to give way. Residential neighbourhoods in cities mostly had to tolerate the smell of nearby stables, as courts concluded stables were essential industries in a horse-borne society. I
n the 20th century, the courts began to apply similar conclusions to the smell of oil refineries and other industries. Now, farmers near growing cities are sometimes in danger of being prevented from spraying fertilizer on their fields.  
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