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  • Odorbet

Capturing Europe's Scent Heritage: Odeuropa

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

(Project Logo designed by Kate McLean ©Odeuropa, did you know there is a scent associated with this logo? Scent designed by Frank Bloem)

Today Odeuropa, an ambitious, olfactory research project is born in Europe. The organization’s mission is to promote Europe’s olfactory heritage. The logic is that if there are already digitized assets of visual arts and cultural history, why not create an olfactory catalog to mirror the visual and cultural clues?

A first of its kind, the research project is backed by the EU Horizon 2020 program for 2.8 M EUR (3 M USD). The team is vast and includes technology experts, art historians, and even an English literature expert from George Washington University. Caro Verbeek, partner on the Odorbet project is part of the team as well (congrats Caro!).

The project’s website discusses safeguarding and promoting European olfactory heritage, and includes a statement to investigating how smell is expressed in different languages, presumably those in the European Union. There is also talk of best-practices in olfactory museology. While many museums throughout the world have been doing multi-sensory investigations of art in their collections for years now, and artists have been continually mining extinct and impossible smells (2008), it will be interesting to learn the best practices and how the AI tools will be utilized to organize “cultural heritage texts and image datasets”.

If indeed this sets the tone and practice of organizing scent heritage, it will be an incredible asset for other nations and people to consider their own unique scent heritage. North American scent heritage sounds extraordinary (dark, light and everything in between), and we wonder who might be up for that task. Knock knock MIT Media Lab? Howard University? Native American Affairs Program? First Nations Development Institute?

Wishing the project great success, and that they might be an inclusive resource for many as we all learn the boundaries, opportunities, and creative promise that lie in nose study.


Overview from press materials:

  • Odeuropa is the first European initiative to use artificial intelligence (AI) to research smell as cultural heritage.

  • It has received €2.8 million from the EU Horizon 2020 programme.

  • It will create an archive of European past and present smells and bring historic scents back to life.

  • The key scents of Europe will be shared in a series of events in museums between 2021 and 2023.

Inger Leemans, Odeuropa’s project lead: “Odeuropa will dive into digital heritage collections to discover the key scents of Europe and the stories they carry, then bring them back to our noses today”.

The Odeuropa consortium partners:

1. KNAW Humanities Cluster (The Netherlands)

5. Anglia Ruskin University (United Kingdom)

7. University College London (United Kingdom)

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