Conference paper
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Urban waterfronts are liminal zones of heightened sensory experience, particularly haptic experiences: the immediate bodily experiences of touch, proprioception and kinaesthesia (body position and movement). Such experiences are generated through direct contact with natural and built environments, strongly mediated by cultural and historical meanings, and they are crucial to forming physical and emotional understandings of the body and the environment. Research on haptic experiences is part of broader interests in ‘sensory history’ as an alternative form of cultural and environmental analysis that has been garnering interest from a range of disciplines over the past several decades (see for example the work of Constance Classen, Alain Corbin, David Howes and Mark M. Smith). The potential value of ‘sensory history’ to studies of the built environment lies in drawing attention away from the overweening and potentially generalizing dominance of ‘the visual’ as a critical category in humanities research. This paper aims to highlight the latent value of the senses of touch, balance and movement, sensations so strongly a part of everyday experience as to often remain largely unnoticed. The heightened sensory environment of cities at the water’s edge makes them ideal locations to explore the history of such ephemeral experiences. Case studies focus on the Perth City Baths and the Water Chute, two early 20th century features of the Perth foreshore, exploring how technological and cultural change shaped haptic experiences of the river and the foreshore at the turn of the century. The case studies focus on the themes of novelty, pleasure, thrill and risk and consider how changing forms of recreation allowed for broadly sensuous rather than primarily visual experiences of the foreshore.

Publication Details
Source title:
Proceedings of the 12th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference 2014
Pagination:
699-714
Publication Year:
2014