Taste and Knowledge

The Taste and Knowledge research group seeks to understand the strange fate of taste as a form of knowledge production intermingled with value judgments.

Taste is central to a wide range of practices used to assay objects and materials for quality and value, from the taste panels used by food producers to the judgments performed by experts in gemstones, wine, art, and coffee. Indeed, taste plays a central but often unrecognised role in the modern economy, determining the value and profitability of countless products.

At one and the same time, however, taste is widely regarded as an intrinsically unreliable way of knowing about the world, subject to the vagaries of both individual taste and individual bodies. Across a huge range of fields, from the sciences to the most obvious objects of taste judgment - food criticism and production - taste is regarded with suspicion. Widespread efforts are afoot to replace or supplement it with apparently more objective practices of quantification and measurement.

We want to understand how and why taste came to have this ambiguous status - at once central to our understanding of quality and value, but at the same time maligned as subjective and inaccurate.

Session One: Senses of Taste

Wednesday 24 November 2021
Speakers: Irene de Vette & Agnieszka Wołodźko

Session Two: Taste and Value

Wednesday 1 December 2021
Speakers: Christy Spackman & Charlotte Guichard

Session Three: Qualifying Taste

Wednesday 23 February 2022
Speakers: Judith Konsten & Ryan Whibbs

Session Four: Training Taste

Wednesday 6 April 2022
Speakers: John Gallagher & Patrick Ruch

Alex Wragge-Morley (a.wragge-morley@lancaster.ac.uk)

Alex Wragge-Morley is a lecturer in the Department of History at Lancaster University in the UK. He is a historian of science and medicine, focusing on the period 1650-1800. Through his research and teaching, Alex seeks to understand how people in the past obtained knowledge through sensory experience. In particular, he asks how scientific and medical practitioners have related the pleasures and pains of the senses to the work of knowledge production. In doing so, he brings together histories of science, medicine, the body, the neurosciences, art, literature, and religion. His first book, Aesthetic Science: Representing Nature in the Royal Society of London, 1650-1720, was published with the University of Chicago Press in 2020.

Marieke Hendriksen (marieke.hendriksen@huc.knaw.nl)

Marieke Hendriksen is a historian of early modern science, art, and knowledge. She is senior researcher at NL-Lab, a research group within the Humanities Cluster of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) in Amsterdam. Her research interests are the role of material culture and sensory perception (especially taste) in the production and exchange of knowledge in the early modern period, in particular in the realms of medicine, chemistry, and art.

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Image: 'Taste, plate four from The Five Senses', by Jacob van der Heyden. Credit: The Wallace L. DeWolf and Joseph Brooks Fair Collections, CC0 Public Domain Designation.