Dr. Katelynn Robinson Unpacks the Role of Odors in the Middle Ages
How did people in the Middle Ages think about smells? It’s a question that Dr. Katelynn Robinson avidly explores in her ongoing research (which includes Visual Odors, a website she created to trace how scents were depicted in medieval European art) and her book, The Sense of Smell in the Middle Ages: A Source of Certainty (Routledge), out next week in paperback. It’s the first comprehensive investigation of the period’s olfactory understanding, which Dr. Robinson compiled by reading Latin texts produced between the 11th and 15th centuries—material that’s largely untranslated and unedited by modern scholars. Wading through writings by academics and doctors, she learned about the overarching factors—including Greek and Arabic studies, philosophical and medical texts, and pious authors who imbued the information with spiritual meaning—that contributed to popular opinions of odors and how they played out in everyday life.