About the Project

The Project

The Pandemic Sensory Archive (PSA) was created by Dr William Tullett (Anglia Ruskin University, UK) and Dr Hannah McCann (University of Melbourne, Australia). In November 2019 we attended a Knowledge Frontiers Forum hosted by the British Academy (BA), attended by Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from the UK and Asia Pacific working in the Humanities. The idea was simple: bring together scholars working on vastly different projects, get them to find common points of interest, and pitch ideas for collaborative grants to the BA. ECRs from the UK and across Asia Pacific flew to Brisbane, which at the time was ominously cloaked in smoke from nearby bushfires.

At first we thought that our work had little crossover, with one of us working on the emotional role that salon workers play in the lives of their clients (Dr McCann), and the other examining the history of smell and sound in eighteenth century England (Dr Tullett). Through conversation – two days of discussion via structured sessions, mingling over drinks and dinner at night – we discovered that our point of connection was this: bodies and the senses. In early 2020 we were successful in obtaining a small joint grant to start a project on examining the senses and “co-presence” in academia. Though in its infancy at this point, we thought that online forms of interaction might become increasingly important for academic life. What might co-presence mean in an increasingly digital academic world?

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

We set about re-shaping our project to more broadly investigate the senses, given that “co-presence” was now off the table. Unable to travel to each other’s countries to host symposiums or conduct workshops, and given time-difference difficulties for moving these online, we came up with the PSA as an asynchronous tool for engagement. The aim of the PSA is to explore bodies and senses through a digital platform, in light of experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This website is also intended to act as an open data bank of responses which may be used in future research and as a useful teaching resource for anyone teaching on the senses or around topics related to the pandemic.

A number of archives have emerged during the pandemic to capture the experience of the time. For example “The Pandemic Archive” captures work artists have been making in lockdowns, and “Coronavirus Lost and Found” gathers positive and negative experiences of the pandemic. The National Museum in Australia is also collecting COVID-19 stories as part of its “Bridging the Distance” project. However the existing archives around the pandemic are very focused on broad narratives and imagery, and very few on the senses specifically. The exception has been sound, with excellent projects such as the “COVID-19 Sound Map” and “Sounds from the Global COVID-19 Lockdown.

Issues around senses – such as the loss of touch in isolation – have been a huge part of the experience of the pandemic for many people. It has been suggested that the pandemic has produced a ‘sensory revolution’. We want to archive that revolution. We want to ask: how has it felt for you?

By transforming our sensory experiences the pandemic has also highlighted just how reliant we have been on our senses socially, culturally, and economically and in ways we often take for granted. From touch-screen checkouts at supermarkets to the physical proximity of in-person meetings and from the sounds of music venues to the touch of beauty technicians or the scent of other people in public space. But it is also clear that in the coming years we will not simply return to the pre-pandemic sensory “normal”. In producing interviews with experts ranging from hairdressers and charity workers to chefs and urban planners the website aims to promote a conversation about what our sensory worlds will look like in a post-pandemic world. What can, should, or will we change and what sensory experiences are worth rescuing or rehabilitating after COVID?

The Team

Dr William Tullett is Associate Professor in Sensory History at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. His research focuses on sensory history – especially histories of sound and smell – from the 1600s to the present. He is currently working on a major EU Horizon 2020 funded project ‘Odeuropa’, which aims to reconstruct Europe’s olfactory heritage by bringing together the humanities, computing, chemistry, and the hands-on use of scents in museums and heritage spaces.His book Smell in Eighteenth-Century England: A Social Sense was published with Oxford University Press in 2019 and he is currently working on a second book, Synthetic Imaginations: A History of Smell. William is interested in exploring the sensory experience of major changes and the possibilities for archiving sensory experience. You can follow William on Twitter @WillTullett
Dr Hannah McCann is a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her research in critical femininity studies includes work on LGBTQ+ communities, beauty culture, and queer fangirls. She is currently working on an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award grant “Beyond Skin Deep” (DE200100989), looking at the role of salon workers in the lives of their clients. Her monograph Queering Femininity: Sexuality, Feminism and the Politics of Presentation was published with Routledge in 2018, and her co-authored textbook Queer Theory Now: From Foundations to Futures with Red Globe Press in 2020. Hannah’s interest in the senses has come from her work on beauty culture, and the importance of touch in generating emotional intimacy in client-worker relations. You can follow Hannah on Twitter @binarythis

Ethics and Contact

This research project has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of The University of Melbourne Ethics ID: 21678.

If you have any concerns or complaints about the conduct of this research project, which you do not wish to discuss with the research team, you should contact the Manager, Human Research Ethics, Office for Research Ethics and Integrity, University of Melbourne, VIC 3010. Tel: +61 3 8344 2073 or Email: HumanEthics-complaints@unimelb.edu.au.

All complaints will be treated confidentially. In any correspondence please provide the name of the research team or the name or ethics ID number of the research project.

If you would like to know more about the project or have any feedback we would love to hear from you.

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