Pandemic Sensory Archive

  • Tullett, Will (Principal investigator)
  • McCann, Hannah (Co-investigator)

Project: Research project (funded)Research

Project Details


The Pandemic Sensory Archive (PSA) was created by Dr William Tullett (Anglia Ruskin University, UK) and Dr Hannah McCann (University of Melbourne, Australia). In November 2019 we attended a Knowledge Frontiers Forum hosted by the British Academy (BA), attended by Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from the UK and Asia Pacific working in the Humanities. The idea was simple: bring together scholars working on vastly different projects, get them to find common points of interest, and pitch ideas for collaborative grants to the BA. ECRs from the UK and across Asia Pacific flew to Brisbane, which at the time was ominously cloaked in smoke from nearby bushfires.
At first we thought that our work had little crossover, with one of us working on the emotional role that salon workers play in the lives of their clients (Dr McCann), and the other examining the history of smell and sound in eighteenth century England (Dr Tullett). Through conversation – two days of discussion via structured sessions, mingling over drinks and dinner at night – we discovered that our point of connection was this: bodies and the senses. In early 2020 we were successful in obtaining a small joint grant to start a project on examining the senses and “co-presence” in academia. Though in its infancy at this point, we thought that online forms of interaction might become increasingly important for academic life. What might co-presence mean in an increasingly digital academic world?
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
We set about re-shaping our project to more broadly investigate the senses, given that “co-presence” was now off the table. Unable to travel to each other’s countries to host symposiums or conduct workshops, and given time-difference difficulties for moving these online, we came up with the PSA as an asynchronous tool for engagement. The aim of the PSA is to explore bodies and senses through a digital platform, in light of experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This website is also intended to act as an open data bank of responses which may be used in future research and as a useful teaching resource for anyone teaching on the senses or around topics related to the pandemic.
A number of archives have emerged during the pandemic to capture the experience of the time. For example “The Pandemic Archive” captures work artists have been making in lockdowns, and “Coronavirus Lost and Found” gathers positive and negative experiences of the pandemic. The National Museum in Australia is also collecting COVID-19 stories as part of its “Bridging the Distance” project. However the existing archives around the pandemic are very focused on broad narratives and imagery, and very few on the senses specifically. The exception has been sound, with excellent projects such as the “COVID-19 Sound Map” and “Sounds from the Global COVID-19 Lockdown.
Issues around senses – such as the loss of touch in isolation – have been a huge part of the experience of the pandemic for many people. It has been suggested that the pandemic has produced a ‘sensory revolution’. We want to archive that revolution. We want to ask: how has it felt for you?
By transforming our sensory experiences the pandemic has also highlighted just how reliant we have been on our senses socially, culturally, and economically and in ways we often take for granted. From touch-screen checkouts at supermarkets to the physical proximity of in-person meetings and from the sounds of music venues to the touch of beauty technicians or the scent of other people in public space. But it is also clear that in the coming years we will not simply return to the pre-pandemic sensory “normal”. In producing interviews with experts ranging from hairdressers and charity workers to chefs and urban planners the website aims to promote a conversation about what our sensory worlds will look like in a post-pandemic world. What can, should, or will we change and what sensory experiences are worth rescuing or rehabilitating after COVID?
Effective start/end date3/02/2031/12/20