Sensory Studies in Spring 2016

I’ve just returned from an interesting RAC/TRAC conference in Rome, which included plenty of sensory papers, with each presenter employing different methods and approaches to show how sensory studies can be applied to the Roman world. Tom Derrick’s TRAC paper Structuring Olfactory Space in the Roman House made a preliminary study of the affect of smell on experience of Pompeian houses, which raised the question of how smell contributed to definition of the internal spaces of these houses, odour being no respector of physical/architectural boundaries. This was a great warm-up act for our panel Sensing Rome: Sensory Approaches to Movement and Space, in which Catherine Hoggarth and Simon Malmberg explored the sensory impact of Rome’s bridges and the Tiber, respectively. A theme running through their two papers was that of bridges and memory – past, present and future – but from two very different perspectives. The next pair of papers focused on Ostia, with my multisensory study of the insula of Giove e Ganimede, followed by Jeff Veitch’s comparison of the aural architecture of the North Cardo (Portico di Pio IX) and Via degli Augustali. Whilst we used very different methods, both studies demonstrated how sensory approaches can inform us about the everyday rhythms of life in Ostia. The final pair of papers took us to Pompeii, and you can find Miko Flohr’s excellent presentation here. Miko considered how sensory studies can help us understand the commercial use of space in Pompeii, presenting a study which ranged across the town, whilst Giacomo Landeschi explained the complexities of creating the digital model of the house of Caecilius Iucundus in Pompeii, as part of the ongoing Swedish Pompeii Project. Many, if not all, of the papers illustrated the complexity of undertaking multisensory studies of any aspect of the Roman world, and Miko raised a good question, which I’d like to come back to in a future post: Do senses make history or does history make the senses? Anyone can apply to author on this blog (email:, so if you’d like to share your thoughts on this question, please do write a post.

Several conference sessions on sensory studies of antiquity are coming up in April:

Classical Association Annual Conference, Edinburgh, 6-9 April – Sensational Sanctuaries

Sound and Auditory Culture in Greco-Roman Antiquity, Missouri, 1-2 April

Seventh Conference of Italian Archaeology, NUIG (Galway, Ireland), 16-18 April – Moving Bodies: Multisensory Approaches to the Ancient Mediterranean


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