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Will Tullett (He/him) is a Lecturer in Early Modern History and pursues research and teaching in three broad fields: sensory, embodied, and environmental history. His interests include smell history and heritage, the materialisation and embodiment of gender, histories of medicine and science, and histories of pollution and environmental degradation.
Will’s first book, Smell in Eighteenth-Century England: A Social Sense was published by Oxford University Press in 2019. His second book, Smell and the Past: Noses, Archives, Narratives was published by Bloomsbury in 2023 and is available open access. He is currently helping to lead the major EU Horizon 2020 funded ‘Odeuropa’ project.
Alongside this, Will is currently working on several research projects: the first one examines the post-1945 role of smell-heritage in British culture and society, a second examines the history of animals and smell from the 1600s to the present, and a third examines the history of sensory education in Britain from the early modern period onwards. He is also working on his third book, a wide-ranging history of smell from the ancient to the modern world.
Will joined the department at York in 2023, having taught at King’s College London, the University of Derby, and Anglia Ruskin University.
Will’s research and teaching are located at the intersection of sensory, embodied, and environmental history. His research has principally focused on the history of smell – briefly dabbling in histories of sound and listening – and he continues to work towards the development of an interdisciplinary field of ‘smell studies’.
Initially, Will’s work emerged from an interest in the history of the body in the long eighteenth century. This has been reflected in articles on gender and perfume in public space and his more recent work on the bodies of badly-behaved bell ringers in 1730s London. However, in recent years his work has increasingly centered on environmental histories that place questions about agency, materiality, and more than human actors alongside sensing bodies. This interest has resulted in chapters and articles on subjects that include the sensory patina of ephemera in eighteenth-century London and the history of ‘thresholds’ in psychological, environmental, and historical research from the 1800s to the present.
Will’s first book, Smell in Eighteenth-Century England, examined the relationship between smell and gender, consumption, and urban space in the period from the 1660s to the 1830s. It argued that whilst smell’s epistemological role in medicine, chemistry, and sanitation altered markedly over the eighteenth century, the use of one’s nose became ever more important in the social life of the senses. In particular, the eighteenth century witnessed the emergence of new ideas of ‘privacy in public’, which we now refer to as ‘personal space’, that were experienced and managed through smell. During the next few years Will spent time working on the emotional politics of sound and listening in eighteenth-century Britain. This resulted in a number of pieces on bell ringing and the acoustic rhythms of late eighteenth century London. He still has soft spot for antiquarian bell-ringers.
From 2021-2023 Will has been a work-package lead on the EU Horizon 2020 funded project Odeuropa. As part of this project, he has put together the first ever ‘Encyclopedia’ of smell history and heritage, helped to develop a ‘Smell Explorer’ tool for browsing references to smells in historical texts, and was involved in producing a number of public engagement events including a smell tour of Amsterdam complete with a scratch ‘n’ sniff card and accompanying mobile app. The Odeuropa project also led to Will’s second book Smell and the Past: Noses, Archives, Narratives, which came out in 2023. This argues that historians should use their noses in their work and makes the case for smells as a new way of disseminating historical research.
Will is currently working on several new projects. One of these is a project with Dr Cecilia Bembibre at University College London and Dr Kate McLean at the University of Kent on smell history and heritage in post-1945 Britain, which aims to trace the influence of longer-running histories of smell on contemporary British culture and society. A second project focuses on the history of animals and smell – and the role of odour as communicative medium between species – from the 1600s to the present. As part of this project Will aims to develop new, less anthropocentric, concepts for thinking about smell and the past. Finally, Will has an ongoing interest in sensory education and the education of the senses in the early modern and modern periods. He is particularly interested in histories of how people have learnt sensory habits, skills, and memories in childhood that go on to inform their adult life.
Aside from the stuff he finds at the end of his nose, Will also has a variety of other ongoing research interests that connect his historical research with contemporary and even futurological issues. Between 2020 and 2021, he held several small collaborative ‘Knowledge Frontiers Forum’ grants from the British Academy for projects on nineteenth-century visions of the future and the sensory experience of the pandemic.
Will welcomes proposals to work on sensory history in any period and place, especially in the period from the 1600-1900. He also welcomes proposals on environmental history, the history of the body, media histories, and urban history in the same period – especially in Britain.
Victoria-Anne Michel, ‘Smellscapes and identity in heritage sites and GLAMs - The role of smells in experiencing space and making sense of place’ (2021-) (PhD diss., University of York, 2021-ongoing).
Second Supervisor: Paul Jackson, ARU, ‘The Round Letters of Percy Grainger’, (PhD diss., Anglia Ruskin University, 2018-2020).
Third Supervisor: Gareth Davies, ARU, ‘The meaning and significance of bells in the soundscape of eighteenth and nineteenth century Cambridge: public service or private indulgence?’, (PhD diss., Anglia Ruskin University, 2015-2022)
Will is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a leader of the ‘Past Scent’ network. He has reviewed grant applications for both national and international funding bodies, book proposals and manuscripts for academic and trade publishers, and articles for academic journals covering history, sensory studies, the medical humanities, and the environmental humanities. Will is happy to hear from museums and heritage sites who are interested in smell-based collaborations.
As a historian with a keen interest in public engagement, Will has extensive experience of work with newspapers, radio, and TV. Very recently he has appeared (or is appearing) on Tony Robinson’s ‘Cunningcast’ podcast chatting about past smells, a BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking episode on noses, and the series Inside the Factory – where he discussed the history of perfumery. He is very happy to talk about smell, odour pollution, perfume, and other related topics in podcasts, on the radio, and on TV.