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Smelling Contagion: The Sensory Experience of Plague in Seventeenth-Century London and the Covid-19 Pandemic

Smith, Lisa and Dugan, Holly and Nicosia, Marissa (2021) Smelling Contagion: The Sensory Experience of Plague in Seventeenth-Century London and the Covid-19 Pandemic. Working Paper. Working Papers in Critical Disaster Studies Series 1: Historical Approaches to Covid-19.

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Abstract

This paper came out of our reflections on the sensory experiences during the Covid-19 lockdowns in the US and UK, particularly around smell, or its absence. As early modernists, we wondered how seventeenth-century people experienced the plague: how did their smellscapes change? Miasma, or foul air, was thought to be a cause of plague outbreaks. But the urban smellscape also changed during an outbreak: vinegar to cleanse money, burned rosemary to purify the air, and bodily odors to indicate infection. Focusing on London, we consider the overlap between the sensory and emotional experiences during an outbreak. We argue that the smells of plague outbreaks shifted people’s ways of being within collective spaces by emphasizing the presence of disease, sharpening social class distinctions, increasing isolation and fear, and requiring specific types of essential labor.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: plague, Covid-19, sensory experience, smell, history, literature, early modern, labour, essential work, urban life
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > History, Department of
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2021 14:38
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2021 15:15
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/31076

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