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A Cultural History of the Senses

6 Volumes

      The ancient world used the senses to express an enormous range of cultural meanings. Indeed the senses were functionally significant in all aspects of ancient life, often in ways that were complex and interconnected. Antiquity was also a period where the senses were experienced vividly: cities stank, statues were brightly painted and literature made full use of sensory imagery to create its effects. In a steeply hierarchical world, with vast differences between the landed wealthy, the poor and the slaves, the senses played a key role in establishing and maintaining boundaries between social groups; but the use of the senses in the ancient world was not static. New religions, such as Christianity, developed their own way of using the senses, acquiring unique forms of sensory-related symbolism in processes which were slow and often contested. The aim of this volume is to provide an overview of these structures and developments and to show how their study can yield a more nuanced understanding of the ancient world.

      A Cultural History of the Senses in Antiquity presents essays on the following topics: the social life of the senses; urban sensations; the senses in the marketplace; the senses in religion; the senses in philosophy and science; medicine and the senses; the senses in literature; art and the senses; and sensory media.

      Understanding the senses is indispensable for comprehending the Middle Ages because both a theoretical and a practical involvement with the senses played a central role in the development of ideology and cultural practice in this period. For the long medieval millennium, the senses were not limited to the five we think of: speech, for example, was categorized among the senses of the mouth. And sight and hearing were not always the dominant senses: for the medical profession, taste was more decisive. Nor were the senses only passive receptors: they were understood to play an active role in the process of perception and were also a vital element in the formation of each individual’s moral identity.

      From the development of specifically urban or commercial sensations to the sensory regimes of holiness, from the senses as indicators of social status revealed in food to the Scholastic analysis of perception, this volume demonstrates the importance of sensory experience and its manifold interpretations in the Middle Ages.

      A Cultural History of the Senses in the Middle Ages presents essays on the following topics: the social life of the senses; urban sensations; the senses in the marketplace; the senses in religion; the senses in philosophy and science; medicine and the senses; the senses in literature; art and the senses; and sensory media.

      We know the Renaissance as a key period in the history of Europe. It saw the development of court and urban cultures, witnessed the first global voyages of discovery and gave rise to the Reformation and Counter Reformation. It also started with the ‘invention’ of oil painting, linear perspective and moveable type, all visual technologies. Does that mean, as has been suggested, that the Renaissance stands for the ‘ascendancy of the eye’? If so, then what happened to the sensory extremes which the famous Dutch historian Johan Huizinga still perceived in the 15th century? Did they simply disappear? Or is there another history to be told, a history of a surprising continuity, not only of the sense of hearing but also of the ‘lower’ senses – those of taste, smell and touch? And was the Renaissance not first and foremost a time of deep sensory anxiety? This volume, assembling nine outstanding specialists, seeks to answer these questions while offering a lively and ‘sensational’ portrait of the period.

      A Cultural History of the Senses in the Renaissance presents essays on the following topics: the social life of the senses; urban sensations; the senses in the marketplace; the senses in religion; the senses in philosophy and science; medicine and the senses; the senses in literature; art and the senses; and sensory media.

      This volume examines the varied ways in which the senses were perceived afresh during the Enlightenment. In addition to introducing new philosophical and scientific models which sometimes upended the classic hierarchy of the senses, this period witnessed major changes in living and working habits, including urbanization, travel and exploration, the invention of new sonic and visual media, and the rise of comfort and pleasure as values that cut across a range of social classes. As this volume shows, those developments inspired a wealth of sensorially stimulating styles of design, art, music, poetry, foodstuffs, material goods and modes of worship and entertainment.

      The volume also demonstrates the period’s countervailing concern with managing the senses, evident in fields like natural philosophy, medicine, education, religion, and public hygiene. Finally, it explores some of the Enlightenment’s desensualizing tendencies, like the separation of sensuous body from discerning mind in certain arenas of science and manufacturing, and the late 18th-century shift away from a politics of publicity, or intense visual and aural scrutiny, toward the secret ballot.

      A Cultural History of the Senses in the Age of Enlightenment presents essays on the following topics: the social life of the senses; urban sensations; the senses in the marketplace; the senses in religion; the senses in philosophy and science; medicine and the senses; the senses in literature; art and the senses; and sensory media.

      The 19th century was a time of new sensory experiences and modes of perception. The raucous mechanical intensity of the train and the factory vied for attention with the dazzling splendour of department stores and world fairs. Colonization and trade carried European sensations and sensibilities to the world and, in turn, flooded the West with exotic sights and savours. Urban stench became a matter of urgent public concern. Photography created a compelling alternate reality accessible only to the eye. At the turn of the 20th century, the telephone and the radio isolated and extended the sense of hearing and electrical networks spread their webs throughout cities. These novel experiences were reflected in contemporary art and literature, which strove for new ways to express modern sensibilities. A Cultural History of the Senses in the Age of Empire brings together a group of eminent historians to explore the aesthetic, cultural and political formation of the senses during a period of momentous change.

      A Cultural History of the Senses in the Age of Empire presents essays on the following topics: the social life of the senses; urban sensations; the senses in the marketplace; the senses in religion; the senses in philosophy and science; medicine and the senses; the senses in literature; art and the senses; and sensory media.

      In the 20th century, many aspects of life became ‘a matter of perception’ in the wake of the multiplication of media, stylistic experimentation, and the rise of multiculturalism. Life sped up as a result of new modes of transportation – automobiles and airplanes – and communication – telephones and personal computers – which emphasized the rapid movement of people and ideas. The proliferation of synthetic products and simulated experiences, from artificial flavours to video games, in turn, created heady virtual worlds of sensation. This progressive mediation and acceleration of sensation, along with the sensory and environmental pollution it often spawned, also sparked various countertrends, such as the ‘back to nature’ movement, the craft movement, slow food and alternative medicine. This volume shows how attending to the sensory dynamics of the modern age yields many fresh insights into the intertwined processes which gave the 20th century its particular feel of technological prowess and gaudy artificiality.

      A Cultural History of the Senses in the Modern Age presents essays on the following topics: the social life of the senses; urban sensations; the senses in the marketplace; the senses in religion; the senses in philosophy and science; medicine and the senses; the senses in literature; art and the senses; and sensory media.