Public Lectures


Melanie Kiechle, ‘From Nuisance to Sensitivity: The Shifting Logics of Public Health’

Wednesday 19th April 2023, 4 – 5:30pm (UK time). Online. Register here.
Co-hosted with the Centre for Environmental Humanities.

Organized public health got its start in the United States by rooting out and regulating “nuisances,” those elements of the environment that were understood to be detrimental to health. Nuisances included such things as marshy ground, standing water, dense smoke, and foul odors—things that citizens could readily identify through their physical senses. As boards of health struggled to keep pace with citizen complaints, they began considering the “sensitiveness” of the complaining citizen. When Board members determined that the complaining citizen was overly sensitive or had coarse senses—often because of their gender, race, or class status—Boards of Health did not act on their nuisance complaints. Drawing from the writing of public health reformers and Board of Health officials, this talk will pinpoint the important role that sensitivity played in the development of public health. Beyond the details of these events, the talk argues that we need to consider the history of sensitivity as we continue to develop sensory history.

Melanie Kiechle is an associate professor of history at Virginia Tech. She is interested in environmental and bodily knowledge in periods of change. Her book, Smell Detectives: An Olfactory History of Urban America, 1840-1900, explores how Americans used their sense of smell to understand and react to industrial growth and urban concentration between the rise of the public health movement and the Progressive Era.


David Howes, ‘Bringing the Senses to Academia, and the Academy to Its Senses’

Wednesday 8 March 2023, 4 – 5:30pm (UK time). Online. Register here.
Co-hosted by the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science

When the poet Baudelaire walked “the forest of symbols,” he discovered that “sounds, fragrances and colours correspond” (in the words of his well-known poem entitled “Correspondences”). Indeed, it would be “really surprising,” he proclaimed elsewhere, “if sound could not suggest colour, if colours could not suggest a melody … things being always expressed by a reciprocal analogy.”  Nonetheless, “modern professors of aesthetics,” according to the poet, have “forgotten the color of the sky, the form of plants, the movement and odor of animals,” and their “rigid fingers, frozen to their pens” are unable “to play over the immense keyboard of correspondences.”

Fortunately, in the wake of the sensory turn in the human sciences of the early 1990s, many academics have come to their senses and the sensorium has emerged as a major focus of much social and cultural inquiry. This presentation will trace the genealogy of sense-based research in the humanities and social sciences. It will go on to pinpoint some of the lingering obstacles to a full-fledged sensorial revolution in scholarship, such as psychologistic and biologistic treatments of the senses. These treatments are shown to ignore or suppress the sociality of sensation and cultural contingency of perception. By way of closing, it will be shown how such hindrances can and must be transcended.

David Howes is Professor of Anthropology and Co-Director of the Centre for Sensory Studies at Concordia University, Montreal as well as an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Law at McGill University. His latest book is called The Sensory Studies Manifesto: Tracking the Sensorial Revolution in the Arts and Human Sciences.




Centre for Environmental Humanities, ‘The Future of the Environmental Humanities’ Workshop

Monday 20 February 2023, 10 – 5pm, Humanities Research Space.

An event organised by the Centre for Environmental Humanities, with a contributing panel by group members Andy Flack, Victoria Bates and Lena Ferriday, on Senses and Sensory History, and Milo Newman on Approaches and methods.

Contributions will be in the form of short, five-minute ‘provocations’, rather than traditional papers, with plenty of time for discussion. The workshop will also serve as a chance for us to think together as a community about where the Centre should be focusing its efforts.


10am: Introduction.
Adrian Howkins & Paul Merchant, CEH Co-Directors.

10:15-11:30: Approaches and methods.
Michelle Bastian (University of Edinburgh), Helen Thomas-Hughes (Cabot Institute), Milo Newman (School of Geographical Sciences).

Coffee Break

11:45-1pm: Blue Humanities and Hydro-Humanities.
Laurence Publicover (English), Paul Merchant (Modern Languages), Joan Passey (English).

Lunch Break

1:45-3:00: Senses and Sensory History.
Andy Flack (History), Lena Ferriday (History), Victoria Bates (History).

Coffee Break

3:15-4:30: Energy Humanities.
Marianna Dudley (History), Melina Antonia Buns (University of Stavanger).

4:30-5pm: Wrap-up. Where next for CEH?


Mark M. Smith, ‘The Last Reenactment and Applied Sensory History: How History and the Senses Can Make a Difference’

Wednesday 8 February 2023, 4 – 5pm (UK time). Online. Register here.

Mark M. Smith is a Carolina Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, the author of numerous books on the American South and a foundational thinker in the field of sensory history. His research is concerned with helping to restore the full sensory texture of history and examine what the senses in addition to seeing might be able to tell us about historical experience and causation.


Hannah Thompson, ‘“Blindness Gain” and the Danger of Accessible Art’

Wednesday 2 November 2022, 4 – 5pm (UK time). Online. Register here.
Co-hosted with the Centre for Health, Humanities and Science

This talk will use examples from 3 Parisian art galleries to argue for a new approach to the display and interpretation of art. Most large museums and galleries work hard to make a few pieces of art accessible to blind and partially blind beholders. My research shows that this kind of access can do more harm than good. Here, I will use my theory of “blindness gain” to suggest that more inclusive approaches, informed by the practice of ‘creative audio description’ are the best way to create properly inclusive gallery experiences for everyone.

Hannah Thompson is Professor of French and Critical Disability Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. Professor Thompson has published widely on French literature and theory, the body, gender, sexuality and disability.