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GUC24S121C | A History and Culture of the Senses

About the lecturer

I'm an associate professor at the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo. I specialize in the history of the senses, the history of technology, and business history. I received a BA and MA in American Studies from the University of Tokyo, and a PhD in History from the Hagley Program in the History of Capitalism, Technology, and Culture at the University of Delaware.​ Before joining the University of Tokyo in 2021, I served as a Newcomen Postdoctoral Fellow in Business History at Harvard Business School (2016–2017) and taught at the Graduate School of Economics at Kyoto University (2017–2021). My first book, Visualizing Taste: How Business Changed the Look of What You Eat (Harvard University Press, 2019) won the 2020 Hagley Prize in Business History (Business History Conference) and the 2020 Shimizu Hiroshi Book Award (Japanese Association for American Studies).
Assoc. Prof. Ai HISANO

Introduction video

A History and Culture of the Senses


1 Subject A History and Culture of the Senses
2 Field History
3 Key words Senses; Emotions; Business; Consumerism; Technology
4 Global Unit 1
5 Lecturer Ai HISANO
6 Period June 17 - 28, 2024
7 Time 10:30-12:00 (Japan Standard Time)
8 Lecture style In-person (on Hongo Campus)
9 Evaluation Criteria Excellent (S) 90–100%; Very good (A) 80–89%; Good (B) 70–79%; Pass (C) 60–69%; Fail (D) 0–59%
10 Evaluation methods Attendance and active participation 40%
Presentation 20%
Final project 40%
11 Prerequisites No prior knowledge about the subject is required. However, because this is a discussion-based course, students must be willing to engage in class discussion. Students are also expected to have completed all reading assignments and to have thought about them before each class.
12 Contents Purpose
This course explores how economic and technological changes altered people’s sensory experience with particular focus on the rise of consumer capitalism. In so doing, it aims to help students (1) foster the critical analysis and deeper understanding of capitalist development; (2) critically discuss methodological and analytical frameworks employed by scholars in the field of sensory studies; and (3) analyze sensory experience not only as personal and biological phenomenon but also as a social construction.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, sensory appeals became a crucial part of business strategies in the modern consumer-oriented economy. This was the radical departure from the prior world under mercantilism and agrarian economy, and the beginning of the new material world, which is still with us today. How have scholars, cultural critics, and business leaders discussed and understood businesses’ attention to the senses in capitalist economy? How has seemingly personal, intimate sensory experience become an important element of mass marketing? How did the rise of new consumer capitalism affect how people lived as well as how they perceived their surrounding environments? In asking these questions, the course encourages students to explore such themes as the creation of sensory experience in modern capitalist society from cross-cultural perspectives, the impact of technological development on sensory perception, the construction of knowledge about the senses, and the role of the senses in business strategies in the global market. By focusing on the role of the senses in the evolution of capitalism, this course addresses the following issues: (1) the intellectual history of capitalism and the senses; (2) the use of sensory appeal in business strategies and its implications; and (3) social implications of technological and economic changes.
The course consists primarily of lectures and discussions based on reading assignments. Students will also work as a group for their final projects.

1. Introduction: Senses, Capitalism, and History
Reading: Howes, “The Expanding Field of Sensory Studies”; and Howes, “How Capitalism Came to Its Senses”
2. Sensory Ethnography
Reading will be provided in class.
3. Gender and the Senses
Reading: Classen, “Engendering Perception”

4. Politics of the Senses
Reading: Hsu, “Colonial and Anti-Black Legacies of Fragrance and Deodorization”
5. Group work
6. Creating Sensory Experience
Reading: Lahne, “Sensory Science, The Food Industry, and the Objectification of Taste”
7. Sensory Relationships and Imperialism
Reading: Rotter, “Empire of the Senses”
8. Technology and the Senses
Reading: Yamada, “Mobilizing Citizens' Ears”
9. Group presentation
10. Group presentation & Final discussion
*For the readings, please see “Required readings.”

(1) 20-minute group presentation on a final project
(2) Final group project and a short paper
13 Required readings (Session 1) David Howes, “How Capitalism Came to Its Senses—and Yours: The Invention of Sensory Marketing (2017)

(Session 3) Constance Classen, “Engendering Perception: Gender Ideologies and Sensory Hierarchies in Western History,” Body and Society 3, no. 2 (1997): 1–19.

(Session 4) Hsuan L. Hsu, “Colonial and Anti-Black Legacies of Fragrance and Deodorization,” Venti 2, no. 2 (2022).

(Session 6) Jacob Lahne, “Sensory Science, The Food Industry, and the Objectification of Taste,” Anthropology of Food 10 (2016).

(Session 7) Andrew J. Rotter, “Empire of the Senses: How Seeing, Hearing, Smelling, Tasting, and Touching Shaped Imperial Encounters,” Diplomatic History 35, no.1 (2011): 3–19.

(Session 8)
Keisuke Yamada, “Mobilizing Citizens' Ears: Aural Training as Civil Defense, 1941–45,” Technology and Culture 64, no. 2 (2023): 359–378.

Additional readings will be provided in class.
14 Reference readings Will be provided during the course.
15 Notes on Taking the Course -
UTokyo Global Unit Courses (GUC)
International Education Promotion Group, Education and Student Support Department
The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8652 JAPAN

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