Historical continuity or different sensory worlds? what we can learn about he sensory characteristics of early modern pharmaceuticals by taking them to a trained sensory panel

Nils-Otto Ahnfelt, Hjalmar Fors, Karin Wendin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Early modern medicine was much more dependent on the senses than its contemporary counterpart. Although acomprehensive medical theory existed that assigned great value to taste and odor of medicaments, historicaldescriptions of taste and odor appears imprecise and inconsistent to modern eyes. How did historical actors move from subjective experience of taste and odor to culturally stable agreements that facilitated communication about the sensory properties of medicaments?This paper addresses this question, not by investigating texts, but by going straight to the sensory impression, which certain substances convey.The aim is not to overwrite or rectify historical descriptions but to investigate whether modern methodologies for sensory assessment can be enlisted to understand the past. We draw on history of science for framing and research questions, pharmaceutical science for knowledge of pharmaceuticals and preparations,and food and meal science for assaying proceduresand protocols. We show that sensory evaluation can yield precise descriptions that would not have been alien to early modern medicine makers. However,there are problems with translating descriptions of taste between different historical contexts. By comparing contemporary descriptions of sensations with eighteenth-century ones, the article discusses how sensory descriptions are highly dependentoncontext, and subject to historicalchange.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-429
Number of pages17
JournalBerichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Volume43
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • History and Archaeology (601)

Keywords

  • Early modern medicine
  • history of olfaction
  • history of pharmacy
  • reproduction
  • reworking history of taste
  • sensory analysis

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