“They’re playing our song.” You know the idea, that a particular melody can take you back to a memory. But do you think the same thing holds true for certain odors? Like, “They’re playing our smell.” I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Kiechle: In Western cultures we have a really strong association between smells and memory. And so, one of the strongest triggers of memory is odor.
Melanie Kiechle is an assistant professor of history in the College of Liberal arts at Virginia Tech. She’s been studying our cultural attitudes towards smell.
Kiechle: You might not even notice the smell but all of a sudden you’re taken back to a different place and a different time. And then that can be very fleeting, and as soon as the smell is gone, the memory is gone.
I asked Melanie Kiechle if there was any smell that’s stayed in her memory.
Kiechle: So I can’t identify the smell. I can’t tell you what caused the smell. But the smell in my grandmother’s kitchen is one of the best smells in the world. It’s I think a combination of baking and cleaning and all of the things that she was always doing. But that was a smell that welcomed me into her home and whenever I encounter that — Once I did in a hotel. It was totally bizarre. It was like a cocktail of cleansers they were using as well as whatever they had been baking. I was instantly in my grandmother’s kitchen. I was instantly with my grandmother, even though she had been gone for a number of years. That was a wonderful moment. I wish I knew how to bring it back. As soon as I walked in the door, the smell hit me and I was in my grandmother’s kitchen. And I couldn’t tell you why. I couldn’t.
So is there any particular odor or scent that takes you back in time? Find us on Facebook and let us know. Maybe one day we’ll play your smell. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.