A Sense Of History

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Mark M. Smith stresses the importance of psychology in recreating the past with sensory details:

[T]wo studies – one performed in the 1960s in the UK, the other a decade later in the US – found that Brits disliked the smell of methyl salicylate (wintergreen) while Americans really enjoyed it. Historical specificity – the context in which noses smell – accounts for the learned preference: among a particular generation in the UK, the scent of wintergreen was associated with medicine and ointments used during the Second World War (hardly the best of times).

Conversely, wintergreen in the US is the olfactory cognate not of medicine but of candy (a minty smell).

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