ODEUROPA: Negotiating Olfactory and Sensory Experiences in Cultural Heritage Practice and Research (ODEUROPA)

Third Party Funds Group - Sub project


Start date : 01.01.2021

End date : 31.12.2022

Website: https://odeuropa.eu/

Overall project details

Overall project


Project details

Short description

Smell is an urgent, but highly under-researched topic in computer science and the humanities. What significance does smell have for society? How should we safeguard our olfactory heritage? How can we extract sensory data from large-scale digital text and image collections? And — why should we?

Our senses are our gateways to the past. Much more so than any other sense, our sense of smell is linked directly to our emotions and our memories. Yet we tend to overlook the significance of scents and smelling, both in our current society as in the past. As today mass digitisation, big data, and bio-physical devices such as health trackers are becoming more central to our daily activities, it becomes all the more urgent that we take great care that such programs properly consider the full range of human experiences and responses to the senses.

At the same time, we lack well-established algorithms, tools, and semantic web standards for olfactory data mining and modelling. Fortunately, one key prerequisite for addressing this problem is already in place. In recent years, European cultural heritage institutions have invested heavily in large-scale digitization: we hold a wealth of object, text and image data which can now be analysed using sophisticated computer science techniques. What remains missing is a broader awareness of the wealth of historical olfactory descriptions, experiences and memories contained within them. We recognize this as both a challenge and an opportunity.

Scientific Abstract

Our senses are gateways to the past. Although museums are slowly discovering the power of multi-sensory presentations, we lack the scientific standards, tools and data to identify, consolidate, and promote the wide-ranging role of scents and smelling in our cultural heritage. In recent years, European cultural heritage institutions have invested heavily in large-scale digitization. A wealth of object, text and image data that can be analysed using computer science techniques now exists. However, the potential olfactory descriptions, experiences, and memories that they contain remain unexplored. We recognize this as both a challenge and an opportunity. Odeuropa will apply state-of-the-art AI techniques to text and image datasets that span four centuries of European history. It will identify the vocabularies, spaces, events, practices, and emotions associated with smells and smelling. The project will curate this multi-modal information, following semantic web standards, and store the enriched data in a ‘European Olfactory Knowledge Graph’ (EOKG). We will use this data to identify ‘storylines’, informed by cultural history and heritage research, and share these with different audiences in different formats: through demonstrators, an online catalogue, toolkits and training documentation describing best-practices in olfactory museology. New, evidence-based methodologies will quantify the impact of multisensory visitor engagement. This data will support the implementation of policy recommendations for recognising, promoting, presenting and digitally preserving olfactory heritage. These activities will realize Odeuropa’s main goal: to show that smells and smelling are important and viable means for consolidating and promoting Europe’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.


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