Jack Ford

It was from his bachelor's and master's projects, which explored medieval cosmological texts, that Jack framed his initial questions regarding medieval approaches to the body and mind in Christian Europe. He is now returning to answer these questions in his doctoral thesis, funded by a UCL Wolfson scholarship.

Jack maintains that ‘affectivity’ – the disposition of the human will towards either virtuous or sinful acts – is central to understanding attitudes towards the body, salvation and the supernatural in the Middle Ages. His thesis therefore asks: how were the five senses thought by philosophers and theologians to be connected with emotion (affectus) and the intellect (intellectus)? In what ways did doctrines of Original Sin shape medieval attitudes towards the body and the body’s senses in cosmology, Christian ritual practice, medicine and magic? And to what extent did the Greco-Arabic philosophy arriving in Europe from the twelfth century complicate the predominantly Neoplatonic paradigm of sensation established by Saint Augustine? In answering these questions, this interdisciplinary project draws upon medieval philosophy, anthropology, psychology and material culture with the aim of combining the methodologies of the ‘linguistic turn’ with that of the ‘sensory turn’ currently being developed by cultural historians. As a result it is Jack's intention to nuance modern approaches to the ‘mind-body problem’ by arguing for its genesis not in early modern Europe, but in the debates and theorising on the interrelationship between body, senses and the mind, stimulated by the synthesis of “new” Greco-Arabic thought with scholastic theology in the Middle Ages.


Supervisor: Dr Sophie Page (UCL) and Professor Charles Burnett (Warburg Institute)
Working title: 'The five senses and "affectivity" in the late Middle Ages'
Expected completion date: 2022


Conference papers and presentations

  • 'Investigating Wellcome MS 55 and its connection to sensory perception and cognition', Medieval Ecologies Workshop, Wellcome Library, London (May 2018).