A Brief History of Scent With Saskia Wilson-Brown: Atlas Obscura Experiences
In this 3-part lecture series, trace the history and future of aromatics, examining the connections between scent and culture.
From the role of incense in worship to today’s global perfume trade, the intentional combination of aromatics has been used as a tool for communication and commerce since some of the earliest moments of recorded human history. In this course led by Saskia Wilson-Brown, we’ll trace the relationship between scent and culture through the past, present, and future. We’ll start at the beginning, looking at archeological evidence of scent production from societies ranging from Mesopotamia to Greece, and from Rome to the Islamic Golden Age. We’ll then pivot to the rise of the modern perfume industry, shifting our lens to Europe to explore how scent was used at Versailles and in the context of the French Revolution, as well as how social shift created the opportunity for new technologies and innovation in the field. We’ll take a look at an old perfume formula and examine how scientific innovation paved the way for the perfume industry as we know it today, touching on contemporary regulation structures, intellectual property, and language. Finally, we’ll turn to the future of perfumery in a new era of democratization, looking at current movements within the field; the adoption of technology like VR, AR and AI; how new molecules create new creative opportunities; and contemporary practices from micro-niche to olfactory art. By drawing connections across time and space, we’ll cultivate a deep appreciation for the impact that perfumery has had on perceptions of beauty, health, religious beliefs, commerce, identity, and so much more.