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The Tastes of Wine: Towards a Cultural History

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ST Lee Professorial Fellow 2011-12: Professor Steven Shapin

A lecture by Steven Shapin (Franklin L Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University) on the cultural and social history of how people have tasted wine and talked about its tastes followed by a wine reception.

Abstract

How have people talked about the organoleptic characteristics of wines? How and why have descriptive and evaluative vocabularies changed over time? These vocabularies have shifted from the spare to the elaborate, from medical implications to aesthetic analyses, from a leading concern with ‘goodness’ (authenticity, soundness) to interest in the analytic description of component flavours and odours. The causes of these changes are various: one involves the importance, and eventual disappearance, of a traditional physiological framework for appreciating the powers and qualities of different sorts of aliment, including wines; another concerns the development of chemical sciences concerned with flavour components; and still another flows from changing social and economic circumstances in which wine was consumed and the functions served by languages of connoisseurship. The historical span surveyed here extends from Antiquity to the present and displays talk about wine tastes as a perspicuous site for understanding aspects of wide-ranging social and cultural change.

Free and open to all no registration required. The lecture will be followed by a wine reception at CRASSH .

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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