Michael R. McVaugh

Michael R. McVaugh

Fellow: Awarded 1981
Field of Study: Medieval History

Competition: US & Canada

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Michael McVaugh received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Princeton, and came to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1964 to teach the history of science in the history department of the University of North Carolina. During the late 1960s he began a close collaborative relationship with Seymour Mauskopf at Duke University, fusing the two programs in the history of science in an early anticipation of the connections that have become more common between the two schools in recent years. The two collaborated in a study of the history of parapsychology under J. B. Rhine at Duke, The Elusive Science: Origins of Experimental Psychical Research (Johns Hopkins, 1980), which was one of the early monographs to recognize what is now a commonplace, the importance of treating the history of science as more than simply a record of transcendent intellectual accomplishments.

But the bulk of Professor McVaugh’s research has centered on medicine in the medieval and early modern periods. His initial focus was on medical thought and the texts of medieval writers, and that is still a major interest; he has been one of the general editors of the Arnaldi de Villanova Opera Medica Omnia (University of Barcelona) since 1975, and has himself edited five of the thirteen volumes that have appeared in that series. Teaching the history of medicine in UNC’s Department of Social Medicine for seven years in the 1980s, however, made him aware of ways in which the social history of medieval medicine might usefully be approached. In 1981-82 with the support of his Guggenheim Fellowship he investigated archival resources pertaining to medicine and society in medieval Catalonia, and this research program culminated in his publication of Medicine before the Plague: Patients and Practitioners in the Crown of Aragon, 1285-1345 (Cambridge, 1993), which received the William H. Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine in 1994; the work describes the success of medical learning in Europe from the late thirteenth century on, and demonstrates the ensuing “medicalization” of medieval society. A second research project, on medieval surgery, led to an edition (Brill, 1997-98) of the great surgical treatise of Guy de Chauliac, the Chirurgia Magna, and to a general account of the development of the field during the thirteenth century, The Rational Surgery of the Middle Ages (SISMEL, 2006). Since 2006 he has also been collaborating with Gerrit Bos (University of Köln) on the publication of the medical writings of Maimonides, contributing editions of the Latin translations of those Arabic-language works to three of the volumes now in print.

In 1996 Professor McVaugh was named William Smith Wells Professor of History at the University of North Carolina; he retired from formal teaching in 2007. He was made a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 2005 and received the Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society in 2010.


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