The COVID-19 crisis has underlined how smell plays a key role in everyday life: not only is the loss of smell one of the symptoms of COVID-19, but the lockdown has also influenced our olfactory environment (we miss the aroma of vending-machine coffee at the office and fragrant smells when dining out). But what role did smell play in our cultures in previous centuries? And how can smell help to promote Europe’s tangible and intangible heritage today? The EU Horizon2020 project ODEUROPA: Negotiating Olfactory and Sensory Experiences in Cultural Heritage Practice and Research is the first pan-European research project to investigate our olfactory history. ODEUROPA is led by the KNAW Humanities Cluster, with Inger Leemans (NL-Lab) as the project leader.


The project aims to develop sensory mining techniques to discover and recreate our historical olfactory heritage. A team of experts in computational methods will search for smell-related information in digital text and image collections from seven different language regions, covering the period between 1600 and the early twentieth century. We are curious about which aromatic substances are mentioned frequently, and about the meanings and emotions associated with smells. We will also search for the most and least fragrant places, and we want to investigate the strategies used by people in the past to ward off unpleasant smells.


The historical findings will eventually be exhibited in an online Encyclopaedia of Smell Heritage. Moreover, a selection of European smells will be analysed with the aid of methods used in heritage science, and ‘reconstructed’ in partnership with the fragrance industry. In cooperation with museums, libraries and artists, the ODEROPA team will organise olfactory events and hold exhibitions, and will teach heritage visitors how to explore the past using their sense of smell. Together with the Dutch Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage, we will investigate the roles played by smell in modern-day heritage practices, and how we can ensure that smell is prioritised more in heritage policy.





  • Caro Verbeek, ‘In Search of Lost Scents: The Olfactory Dimension of Futurism’, International Yearbook of Futurism Studies 10 (2020) (forthcoming)
  • Caro Verbeek, ‘Le musée des odeurs’, New territories of the olfactory experience . GERPHAU (forthcoming)
  • Inger Leemans, ‘Make Sense of Finance!’ TedTalk for TEDxAmsterdam, 2018.