Knowing by Sensing: a Course on Smelling, Tasting and Hearing for Academics

By scent historian Caro Verbeek (caro@caroverbeek.nl)

In academia (and in most other realms in society) people are taught and expected to read, write and to perhaps use their sense of sight. But all the senses can inform us and be used to convey knowlegde and to increase memorability.

During the course ‘Knowing by Sensing’ – part of the track ‘medical and health humanities’ by Manon Parry – students learn about history, care & well-being, urban planning, exhibition making and linguistics. But not by scrutinizing texts and presenting their findings by speaking about it. They actually engage in deepening their understanding of their surroundings and the human beings in it by tasting, hearing and smelling consciously and analytically. During an intensive (and awarded) 8 week course at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam students will have acquired a much broader sensory vocabulary, learned about ‘new’ senses, and will have an idea about how to integrate scents, sounds and tastes in story-telling or in exhibitions. An especially developed ‘sense-log’ will help them gain insight in their progress.

Visitors of the Rijksmuseum touching an historical Airplane called ‘Bantam’ in 2018

During the course we make many excursions. One of them (if circumstances permit it) is a multisensory tour at the Rijksmuseum. This will inform us about how to engage the senses for people of other abilities. Inclusion manager Cathelijne Denekamp is an expert in the field of accessibility and will guide us through the museum. Expert in sensory literature and disability studies Piet Devos will complement this excursion with his personal and academic insights in sensory perception and blindness in the context of a museum.

Odores Medicamentorum by Linnee. A classification system of vegetal (and animal) scents

We will also visit the AromaLab at Mediamatic where scent artist Frank Bloem will help us to reconstruct historical scent recipes. By means of embodied cognition, we’ll also try to sniff out Linnee’s olfactory classification system of plants ‘odores medicamentorum’.

Students of ‘Knowing by Sensing’ at the AromaLab in 2019

We even drink wine under the guidance of linguist and neuro-scientist Ilja Croijmans. This delightful workshop enables students to verbalize taste and flavour.

Professor Hans Fidom (organ studies) and Michiel Huijsman (soundtrackcity) will conduct the lesson on sound and hearing. While Hans receives us at the organ park (Vondelpark) Michiel will take us on a sound tour through Amsterdam. Both will teach students how to engage in ‘deep listening’.

Students working an organ at the organ park under guidance of Hans Fidom

Last but not least care professionals will share their insights in multi-sensory communication techniques with the Knowing by Sensing students. Using the senses consciously and more analytically can really help in creating environments that are beneficial for health and well being.

Last year Cretien van Campen talked about how the senses can activate people of old age. In 2021 guest lecturer Sandra Schouten will tell us about her multi-sensory designs in the context of care: “working with (estranging) food, scent, touch and deep listening, really helps to establish a more fundamental and equal connection to people that are usually hard to reach (such as people suffering from Alzheimer’s). The senses provide an accessible type of language in which ‘play’ plays an important role”

Cheese bracelet, designed by Sandra Schouten of ‘Het Huis van Proeven’

For the first edition in 2019 100% of the students indicated that their sensory vocabulary had been enlarged and their understanding of the (collaboration between) the senses and the awareness of their environment had fundamentally changed. Some described Knowing by Sensing as ‘magical’ and ‘one of the best courses I ever took’.

Former student Sofia Ehrich commented that: “The Knowing by Sensing course changed my perspective on education and life. I often have a difficult time absorbing all the information dictated to me during traditional lectures, but because all my senses were stimulated in every class, I still remember much of the information that was taught to us to this day, and I feel that I created meaningful and memorable experiences.”

Senses transcend disciplinary, geographic and chronological boundaries. Triggering the senses makes knowledge last and understanding more fundamental. This hands-on, nose-on course can be of additional value to virtually anyone coming from the humanities, social or exact sciences. It is also recommended to medical students. Even curious ‘external’ candidates can apply.

more information here:

https://studiegids.vu.nl/en/Master/2020-2021/history/L_GAMAGES034

Master Track Medical and Health Humanities

and here: http://www.pulsenetwork.nl/knowing-by-sensing-in-the-news/

or contact: caro_lisette@yahoo.com/ c.l.verbeek@vu.nl

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