now available in paperback!
If you smell something, say something.
What did nineteenth-century cities smell like? An innovative contribution to sensory history, Smell Detectives follows the nineteenth-century Americans who used their noses to make sense of the sanitary challenges caused by rapid urban and industrial growth. Believing that foul odors caused illness, medical experts and ordinary people alike equated the new and stronger stenches of overcrowded cities with disease and danger, and so they attempted to make cities healthier by detecting and then mitigating the most menacing odors. But the sources of offending odors proved difficult to pinpoint and the search for them sometimes produced even more of a stink.
Drawing on nuisance complaints, medical drawings, domestic advice, and myriad discussions of what constituted fresh air, historian Melanie Kiechle looks at the relationship between "common sense" - the olfactory experiences of common people - on the one hand and the construction of scientific expertise in the form of city health boards on the other. The boards introduced new conflicts between complaining citizens and the officials in charge of the air, ultimately delegitimizing those complaints. Although the rise of germ theory revolutionized medical knowledge and ultimately undid this form of sensory knowing, Smell Detectives recovers how an earlier generation of city residents used their sense of smell to understand, adjust to, and fight against urban environmental changes.