American Studies | Seminar in American Studies / Topic: The Senses in History
G751 | 15830 | Ed Linenthal


(4 cr.) Jointly offered with HIST-H750

University of South Carolina historian Mark M. Smith has observed
that "there is no compelling reason for historians to fixate on what
was seen rather than heard, smelled, tasted, and touched; nor is
there any compelling reason to treat the senses as
unchanging 'natural' endowments. To understand the function of the
senses is essentially a historical enterprise." This seminar is a
response to Smith's call for historians to take seriously the
history of the senses. A disciplined imagining of the past--surely
part of the historian's craft—is impoverished without paying
attention to this history. We will read drafts of essays forthcoming
in the Journal of American History, The Senses in American History."
We will travel beyond the borders of the U.S. and read about the
function of smell in early Christianity and in 18th century France.
We will read about the manipulation of the senses in the
totalitarian aesthetic of Nazi Germany, and we will return to the
United States to imagine how early America sounded, to appreciate
the complex social meanings associated with taste and hunger, and we
will learn how touch was essential to the formation of American
racial categories. Students will be expected to complete a major
research project.