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Products for grant RA-50112-12

NEH Fellowships at the American Antiquarian Society
Susan Forgit, American Antiquarian Society

Grant details:

Navigating by Nose: Fresh Air, Stench Nuisance and the Urban Environment, 1840-1880 (Article)
Title: Navigating by Nose: Fresh Air, Stench Nuisance and the Urban Environment, 1840-1880
Author: Melanie Kiechle
Abstract: Attitudes toward fresh air and fear of stenches guided choices that restructured and changed the urban environment and governance between 1840 and 1880. This study of olfactory-inspired reforms demonstrates the cultural significance of nuisance beyond the courtroom. City dwellers used their understanding of stench nuisance as detrimental to health to construct smellscapes or olfactory maps of New York City. Such maps identified health threats and guided movements through or out of the city. These maps proliferated before and after the creation of the Metropolitan Board of Health in 1866. Sanitarian concern about stenches echoed lay concerns, and encouraged the creation of standing health boards. These boards mapped air currents that crossed political boundaries rather than pursuing individuals’ stench complaints. Considering individuals’ smellscapes alongside the health board’s maps demonstrates that 1866 was a turning point for the creation of both institutionalized public health and the conflict between lay and expert.
Year: 2015
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Periodical website
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Journal of Urban History

Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century Urban America (Book)
Title: Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Nineteenth-Century Urban America
Author: Melanie A. Kiechle
Abstract: What did nineteenth-century cities smell like? And how did odors matter in the formation of a modern environmental consciousness? Smell Detectives follows the nineteenth-century Americans who used their noses to make sense of the sanitary challenges caused by rapid urban and industrial growth. Melanie Kiechle examines nuisance complaints, medical writings, domestic advice, and myriad discussions of what constituted fresh air, and argues that nineteenth-century city dwellers, anxious about the air they breathed, attempted to create healthier cities by detecting and then mitigating the most menacing odors. Medical theories in the nineteenth century assumed that foul odors caused disease and that overcrowded cities-filled with new and stronger stinks-were synonymous with disease and danger. But the sources of offending odors proved difficult to pinpoint. The creation of city health boards introduced new conflicts between complaining citizens and the officials in charge of the air. Smell Detectives looks at the relationship between the construction of scientific expertise, on the one hand, and "common sense"-the olfactory experiences of common people-on the other. Although the rise of germ theory revolutionized medical knowledge and ultimately undid this form of sensory knowing, Smell Detectives recovers how city residents used their sense of smell and their health concerns about foul odors to understand, adjust to, and fight against urban environmental changes.
Year: 2017
Publisher: University of Washington Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780295741932
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes