2020 Fall Conference

2020 Fall Conference

Capitalism and the Senses


November 5th and 6th 2020

The conference was presented online.  Presentations were twelve minutes each and drawn from longer essays pre-circulated in advance. 

The presenters retain full copyright of their papers and presentations. These materials may not be cited or quoted, or circulated for course use or any other purpose, without the express written permission of the author. 

The conference was organized by Hagley’s Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society. The program committee was composed of Regina Lee Blaszczyk (University of Leeds), David Suisman (University of Delaware), and Roger Horowitz (Hagley).

Download a PDF version of the conference flyer

Thursday, November 5, 2020

9:00 - 10:30: Putting the Senses in the History of Capitalism

Ai Hisano, Kyoto University
"Use Not Perfumery to Flavor Soup": Aesthetic Judgement in the Science of the Senses

Sven Kube, Florida International University
Capitalist Sounds: How Technological Competition and Free Enterprise Shaped Western Pop Music

Grace Lees-Maffei, University of Hertfordshire
Getting a Handle on It: Embodied Research Using Touch in Design History

Ingemar Petersson, Uppsala University
Economization of the Senses: Smells, Colors, and Tactile Qualities in the Era of Industrialization

10:45 - 12:15: Marketing Sensory Experience

Jessica Clark, Brock University
Fragrance and Fair Women: Smellscapes and British Consumers in Modern London

Dan Du, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Behind the Teacup: American Tea Consumption in the Nineteenth Century

Megan Elias, Boston University
Feminine Touches: The Sensory World of the ‘Lady Hilton’ Program

Lisa Jacobson, University of California, Santa Barbara
Altered States and Gustatory Taste: The Sensory Synergies of Alcohol Beverage Marketing in Mid-Twentieth Century U.S.

12:15 - 1:00: Open Discussion

Friday, November 6, 2020

9:00 - 10:30: Beyond the Human

Nicholas Anderman, University of California, Berkeley
Sounding Maritime Metal: Listening to Capitalism at Sea

Kristen Beales, Harvard University
Hard Combat with Satan: Experiencing God at Work in Eighteenth-Century New England

Christopher K. Tong, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Touching Animals: Making Sense of Interspecies Contact in Early Twentieth-Century China

Nicole Wilkes-Joerger, North Carolina State University
Making Trash Tasty: A Sensory History of Livestock Feed Additives

10:45 - 12:15: Expertise and Measurement

Leah Samples, University of Pennsylvania
See: Standardization, Sight, and the Industrial Eye Exam

David Sicilia, University of Maryland, College Park
The Science and Business of Seeing: Matthew Luckiesh of General Electric and the Birth of Illuminating Engineering

Ana Maria Ulloa, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá-Columbia
Dealing with Taste and Smell Variability: Skills and Sensory Labor in Contemporary Science and Industry

12:15-1:00: Closing discussion


Call for Proposals


This conference will explore the sensory history of capitalism—the ways that seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching have shaped, and been shaped by, capitalism over the longue durée, from the early modern era to the present. From the stench of the stockyards to the saccharine sounds of Muzak, everyday sensory environments have been made and remade by capitalism, and as portals through which we take in knowledge of the world, the senses have been subject to manipulation, exploitation, and commodification. If, as Karl Marx contended in 1844, the senses have a history, then that history is intertwined with the development of capitalism, which has drawn on the embodied power of the senses and, in turn, influenced how sensory experience has changed over time.
We are interested in original, unpublished, and historically informed papers written from a range of disciplinary viewpoints, including but not limited to history, anthropology, psychology, historical sociology, and the history of science. We especially encourage proposals that engage with the following themes, but are open to any work that falls within this call for proposals:

  • the construction of knowledge about the senses

  • the creation of sensory standards and measurements for commercial purposes

  • the development of new forms of sensory labor and sensory manipulation in the workplace

  • the impact of industrial research and innovative technologies on sensory products

  • the use of sensory appeals in marketing, advertising, packaging, and selling

  • the manipulation of commercial products to augment their sensory appeal

Please submit proposals of no more than 500 words and a one-page C.V. to Carol Lockman at clockman@Hagley.org by May 1, 2020. Conference presenters will be asked to submit complete versions of their conference papers by October 15, 2020. Presenters will receive lodging in the conference hotel and compensation for their travel costs. The conference organizers are planning an edited volume based on a selection of revised conference papers. The program committee is comprised of Regina Lee Blaszczyk, University of Leeds; David Suisman, University of Delaware; Roger Horowitz and Erik Rau, Hagley Library.