Thesis Title: Hazy atmospheres: a sensory history of smoking and vaping, c. 1880 - present
This project will explore the sensory history of smoking in Britain from c.1880 to the present. Taking in the current rise of vaping (using e-cigarettes), this sensory history would unearth the overlooked experiences of touch, smell and taste to expand an understanding of a practice that is too often construed merely as personal health risk or socioeconomic problem.
By the late 19th century, smoking in Britain had become universal and the mass consumption of cigarettes post-WWII saw a shift in the class and gender profile of smoking (Hilton 2000), while the development of cheap, mass-produced paper cigarettes replaced clay pipes and fine cigars, creating a sensory atmosphere with new scents, flavours and textures. The project will examine how these changing sensory experiences shaped and were shaped by the established cultures of class, gender and health. Taking Nottingham’s John Player & Sons tobacco manufacturer as a key case study, the project will investigate what role the senses had in processes of cigarette production, advertising and consumption. The recent emergence of e-cigarettes further complicates these issues and poses new questions about the smoker’s identity by offering not only a safer, familiar alternative, but also a distinct sensorial experience. The key contribution of this project will be to map the historically diverse sensory experiences of smoking not only to get a richer understanding of the past but also nuance the ways vaping is ‘sensed’ today.
The project will hence move beyond traditional, ‘deodorised’ histories (Classen 1993; Smith 2007) and be in line with the ‘sensorial revolution’ in the humanities (Howes 2006) that displaced vision as the main medium for understanding the world. Thus, by capturing these more diffuse, ‘hazy’ atmospheric aspects, which have implications for the ways smoking is extolled or vilified, I will challenge a model that imposes rigid conceptual divisions by reducing smoking and vaping merely to notions of health and risk.