Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Mark Smith


This dissertation analyzes discourses concerning odor within the Atlantic World from approximately 1492 until 1838. Numerous historians and philosophers have described how the Reformation’s emphasis on texts and an increased concentration on visual science during the Enlightenment influenced Western Europeans to heighten the importance of the eye to the detriment of the lower sense of smell. This dissertation begins by thinking about materialist contours of this olfactory decline through a linguistic analysis of sulfur within seventeenth century England. It then proceeds to examine how in the early Americas such a repudiation of the sense of smell did not occur. The nearness to indigenous sensory aesthetics, and the subaltern’s use of odor within religious rituals, kept specific European colonists, Africans, and Native Americans vitally in tune with their noses. This retention of olfactory sensibilities is exemplified through the conversion methods of Jesuit Fathers in New France and the scientific observations of Anglo-American botanists in North America. To control this continued use of odor in the Americas, European writers rhetorically linked the lower classes, women, and other races to powerful scents. The construction of blackness specifically included the use of odor to stain African bodies as pungent compared to rhetoric that asserted whiteness as unpolluted. In the Old World, olfactory decline was an essential aspect of nation building and ethnic border control processes during the Early Modern Era, while in the Atlantic World the exchange of new bodies and novel commodities made the transgressive threat of odor irrepressible.


© 2017, Andrew Kettler

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