A Sensory History Manifesto is a brief and timely meditation on the state of the field. It invites historians who are unfamiliar with sensory history to adopt some of its insights and practices, and it urges current practitioners to think in new ways about writing histories of the senses.
Starting from the premise that the sensorium is a historical formation, Mark Smith traces the origins of historical work on the senses long before the emergence of the field now called “sensory history”, interrogating, exploring, and in some cases recovering pioneering work on the topic. Smith argues that we are at an important moment in the writing of the history of the senses, and he explains the potential that this field holds for the study of history generally. In addition to highlighting the strengths of current work in sensory history, Smith also identifies some of its shortcomings. If sensory history provides historians of all persuasions, times, and places a useful and incisive way to write about the past, it also challenges current practitioners to think more carefully about the historicity of the senses and the desirability—even the urgency—of engaged and sustained debate among themselves. In this way, A Sensory History Manifesto invites scholars to think about how their field needs to evolve if the real interpretive dividends of sensory history are to be realized.
Concise and convincing, A Sensory History Manifesto is a must-read for historians of all specializations.
“Mark M. Smith’s masterful command of sensory history is everywhere on display in this timely, insightful manifesto. Small in size but capacious in scope, this agenda-setting examination of the ‘state of the field’ surveys a wide range of historical work on the senses while identifying new directions for future scholarship. Conveying complex ideas with enviable simplicity, A Sensory History Manifesto is both an essential guide to the field and a compelling argument for its transformation.”
—Peter Denney, coeditor of Sound, Space and Civility in the British World, 1700-1850
“A Sensory History Manifesto is an impressively wide-ranging synthesis of some of the key developments in the field, covering the entire globe and all periods from antiquity to the present. It offers many excellent ideas for future interdisciplinary research, including engaging more fully with emerging animal–human interaction studies and with the hard sciences.”
—Tim Lockley, author of Military Medicine and the Making of Race: Life and Death in the West India Regiments, 1795-1874
About the Author:
Mark Smith is Carolina Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina. An award-winning author of more than a dozen books, his work has been translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Danish, and Spanish.