A Cultural History of the Senses is the definitive overview of the role of the senses from antiquity to the modern age, covering themes such as religion, philosophy, science, medicine, literature, art and media. Superbly illustrated, these books delve into the sensory foundations of Western civilization, taking a comprehensive period-by-period approach, which provides a broad understanding of the life of the senses in history. With contributions from such prominent scholars as Peter Burke, Alain Corbin, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and Chris Woolgar, the six volumes set the stage for a vital new way of understanding the past.
Here is what Professor Geoffrey Hawthorn had to say about A Cultural History of the Senses, in his special review for the Times Literary Supplement:
“But what exactly is the enterprise? Most obviously, it is to take historical inquiry into a new area. More ambitiously, it is to extend and perhaps even alter our understanding of areas we think we already know. Most excitingly, we can hope that it might extend our understanding of the relations more generally between biology, circumstance, sensation and expression. Neurological observation, Holly Duggan reports in a riveting introduction to her essay on the sensory content of early modern poetry, has revealed that smelling a lily, watching someone smelling a lily, and reading an account of someone smelling a lily all rely on similar areas of the brain. And in triggering an expanse of wider (involuntary) memory, Proust’s madeleine could have done so in the area that processes tactile sensation. … The “incessant shower of innumerable atoms” of sensation that Virginia Woolf had felt and Ralf Hertel discusses in the last of these volumes may now cohere, insofar as it coheres at all, in a smartphone. But the change has been deeper than that. It is not just that we recognize that “all day, all night,” as Woolf wrote, “the body intervenes.” It is that we are able now, as some might say again, to express the fact. Each of the contributors to the last of these volumes has interesting things to say about how artists and theorists have responded to the change, not infrequently separating sense from the sensor altogether, but a satisfying explanation of it still seems to elude. What is clear is that an increasing number of us are now are culturally free to use Socrates’ “whatever we ought to call it” to make whatever we wish of what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch - and just as important, free to avoid what we wish to. Looked over at the longue durée, that may be most remarkable of all.”
Mark M. Smith of the Wall Street Journal also had a number of positive things to say about the collection:
“These impressive volumes enable us to venture beyond the credo that “seeing is believing” and to better appreciate the original iteration of that phrase as it was used in the medieval period: “Seeing is believing but feeling’s the truth.” For the same reason, “A Cultural History of the Senses” reminds us that histories of smell, sound, taste and touch—as well as of sight—are remarkably useful in helping us remember that the truth is more complex than it might first appear.”
We’re delighted about the positive reception of A Cultural History of the Senses, which has been a success with academics, journalists and general enthusiasts. Take a look at the volumes in more detail here.