JCB Fellow's Talk: Andrew Kettler

June 27, 2018 - 4:00pm

Andrew Kettler (University of Toronto), Center for New World Comparative Studies Fellow

"Odor and Power in the Americas: Olfactory Consciousness from Columbus to Emancipation"

The pervasive idea that Africa and her peoples smelled was originally constructed to justify European commodification of African bodies within the Atlantic Slave Trade. Many of these aromatic notions were first harvested from sixteenth century travel narratives that summarized the smells of African environments. Within European metropoles, those particular notations about the aromas of Africa became universal and biological, as plays and sermons increasingly defined African bodies as inherently pungent during the seventeenth century. Among the numerous later scholars to borrow those literary constructions of odor were Benjamin Rush and Thomas Jefferson. Akin to fabricated phrenology, the science and fiction of the nose became essential for slaveholders to justify their beliefs regarding the inferiorities of African peoples. Born of European literature, and agitated within a global intelligence network of the late Enlightenment, the social construction that African bodies smelled perpetuates into modernity as its own stinking discourse of embodied racism.

The Reading Room will close to researchers at 3:30 pm.