Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History

Article excerpt

Sensing the Past: Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching in History, by Mark M. Smith. California, February 2008. $55 cloth, $19.95 paper

At once a review of the growing literature on the history of the senses and a statement concerning the directions the author promotes, Smith's brief is structured as a response to the dominant trope in this field, that of the "great divide" (as explicated by Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong) between preliterate oral cultures and the culture of modernity, which relies on literacy, scientific observation, and, above all, the dominance of the sense of vision. While Smith recognizes the important contributions of McLuhan and Ong, he finds their models of sensory history simplistic. In the five chapters (one for each of the senses) that make up the body of the book, Smith shows that in the history of Western civilization the senses other than vision did not lose their importance after the rise of print culture; rather, their significance was redefined in relationship to vision. …

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