How a Whale Becomes a Molecule: A Geography of Modern Olfaction


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




“How a Whale Becomes a Molecule” examines how the olfactory sense comes into being through historical, geographic conditions. It traces the process of material transformation of ambergris, a sperm whale gallstone prized as a scent and fixative in the perfume industry, from its original oceanic acquisition to its reformulation within chemical fragrance labs to consider how the simultaneous production of aromatic material and embodied knowledge generates smell anew. In tracking the production of sensory equivalence across material divides, this project argues that the making of the essence and commodity called “ambergris” and “ambroxan” is a history of the making and remaking of the sense of smell itself.