Ute Leonards, ‘Designing inclusive spaces – A view from the vision sciences’

6 December 2023, 4-5pm (UK time). Zoom.
Please register here to receive the Zoom joining link.

The sensory makeup of an environment can optimally support or it can hinder people’s ability to concentrate, think, work and learn, and to interact with other people. It affects people’s emotions and mood, their creativity and more generally, their health and well-being. Sensory stressors induced by poor sensory design choices are the key contributor to migraines (estimated at 90%), costing the UK population alone around 43 million days off work and education each year (Migraine Trust, 2022). In education and work environments, sensory stressors have been shown to disproportionally affect people living with neurodiverse conditions (including e.g. ASC, ADHC, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, Tourette’s, OCC, depression), keeping them from performing to their real potential and even causing them to fail (e.g. Dwyer et al. 2023). Yet, current design standards do not take evidence into account that would allow designers to cater for differences between individuals in how they react to environments. Here I provide evidence that individual reactions to environments are not random but predictable, and how the investigation of the dynamics between visual perception, cognition and locomotion might help us find solutions to pressing societal issues such as reducing falls risk in an ageing population or furthering inclusion in an increasingly neurodiverse society – all by sensory sciences helping to inform design choices. I will finish my talk with an appeal that we need to work across disciplines to develop a systemic framework of Sustainable Urban and Architectural Design that is informed by sensory sciences.



Chris Millard, ‘Harnessing, Managing or Partitioning Autobiographical Disclosure: Personal Experience and Academic History’

25 October 2023, 4-5pm (UK time). Zoom.
This session was recorded, and can be viewed here.

Historians (as a group) tend to struggle with personal experiences and their work. Autobiographical disclosure, personal experience and emotional investment is not touched on as part of PhD training, and for career historians it usually appears (if at all) firmly constrained in prefaces, acknowledgements, forewords, afterwords, epilogues and appendices. There is also a thriving market for late-career historians to pen their autobiographies, explaining their scholarly output, but at some distance from their work of “the history itself”. However, there are some historians, from at least the 1970s, drawing on different disciplinary traditions (psychoanalysis, anthropology, postmodern literary criticism, critical race theory, feminism and general political activism) who have tried to bring “the personal” into a productive and fundamental relationship with their scholarly output. Sometimes this concerns personal experiences in archives, sometimes it centres around aspects of sexual orientation and/or gendered and/or racial identity, and at others it involves particular experiences or events (e.g. motherhood, child abuse, psychiatric diagnosis, miscarriage, rape). This talk will show how various traditions that influence history bring with them a link or prompt to “the personal”, and will examine how personal experience has been used or managed in various works of history. This is in the context of my own historical work on Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, my mother’s persistent illness behaviour, and my childhood in and out of hospital on various pretexts. It centrally asks, not only how have we got to a place where historians might manage these personal experiences usefully in their work, but what does it mean at a basic level to “have experience” of something that one is researching.

Idea Exchange Workshop

6-7 June 2023.

Tuesday 6 June

15:30-16:00: Will Tullett’s Manifesto for Sensory Research.

16:00-17:00: Sensory Ethnographic walk led by Austin Read (Geography).

Wednesday 7 June

9-9:15: Introduction 

9:15-10: Speculative Mapping led by Rebecka Fleetwood-Smith.

Coffee break

10:15-11:15: Health and disability
Abs Ashley, Lena Ferriday, Cleo Hanaway-Oakley, Ulrika Maude, Patricia Neville, Will Pooley

11:15-12:15: More-than-human surroundings
Andy Flack, Simeon Koole, Georgia Nelson, Joan Passey, Alice Would

 Lunch break

1:15-2:15: Representations
Barbara Caddick, Oliver Dawson, Susan Harrow, Milo Newman, Danny Riley, Will Tullett

2:15-3:45: Creative workshop led by Catherine Lamont-Robinson.

Coffee break

4-5: Reflections (Will Tullett) + future group plans


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.