The Proust Effect: Oral History and the Senses

Paula Hamilton

in The Oxford Handbook of Oral History

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780195339550
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Proust Effect: Oral History and the Senses


At least one of the five senses—sound, vision, touch, taste, and smell—is essential to all human experience. Oral history is no exception. The importance of the senses has taken new conceptual approaches to interpreting the nature of experience, first by anthropologists working with different cultures, then later cultural historians, that is, before these ideas became more widespread. This article traces the importance of the five senses in experiencing oral history with special reference to Marcel Proust. It is well known that senses can act as a mnemonic device or a trigger to remembering. The smell and taste of tea and madeleines stimulated Proust's recollection of his past, in one of the most famous of all literary passages about memory. Proust called it the involuntary memory. Oral histories are by nature, articulating experience in speech and language. This article further traces several ways by which one can consider the role of the senses in oral histories.

Keywords: senses; oral history; conceptual approaches; cultural historians; Marcel Proust

Article.  6870 words. 

Subjects: History ; Oral History

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