Knowing by Sensing in the News

Ad Valvas, the VU University student newspaper, visited one of the first sessions of our brand new MA course running this semester and reported on the multisensory experiences in class. Read more here (in Dutch).

The senses offer scholars intriguing topics that transcend disciplinary, chronologic and geographic boundaries. But beyond this the senses are valuable methodological tools, that provide us with different types of knowledge than text and image alone can provide. In our digital and visually orientedage of social media and the internet, the senses and the body are undervalued and underestimated –especially in academia. Even when scholars study the senses, they are hesitant to engage with them: they remain the object of study,but aren’t considered informative in themselves. This course teaches students to include the different senses in the production of knowledge, to train their sensory gaze, and to be able to describe sensory phenomena.

“Yesterday was quite exciting as we did a hands on nose on workshop at the aroma lab at mediamatic. We first talked about and smelled the relation between medical and olfactory history including Linnee’s ‘odores medicamentorum’. Individuals and small groups set out to find out what his olfactory categories such as ‘tetri’ and ‘fragrantes’ actually smelled like by trying to find the right plants or substances found around and in the premises.”

Caro Verbeek, sensory specialist and course teacher

The course addresses disciplines such as medicine, medical history, archaeology, (art-)history and non-academic topics such as gastronomy, art and dance.An inter-disciplinary team of experts will address the sense of touch, smell, sight, taste, hearing, synesthesia and even our interoceptive senses (balance, weight, etc.). It challenges the classical hierarchy of the senses in which only sight and hearing are considered aesthetic and informative tools. Senses, body and mind will work together to fundamentally transform the way in which we know, study and understand.Students will participate in a wide variety of lectures, workshops and experiments offered by specialists, including visits to the Rijksmuseum and Oosterdok, and a wine tasting. They will keep track of their experiences and progress in a multi-sensory ‘sense-log’, and (learn to) present their research in a multi-sensory presentation.

Knowing by Sensing (February-March) is one of two MA courses in Medical and Health Humanities using innovative teaching methods, together with Objects of Knowledge (April-May). Both are part of a Comenius Teaching Fellowship to develop more inclusive and engaging interdisciplinary courses for classes of students from many different programs and backgrounds.