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William Fleming MacLehose (1967-2020), historian of Medieval medicine

14 May 2020

Following the sad news of his unexpected passing on 07 May 2020 aged 52, STS remembers beloved colleague and friend Dr William Fleming MacLehose.

Image of Dr Bill Maclehose


Dr William Fleming MacLehose, 2nd, passed away unexpectedly on 07 May 2020, aged 52.

Bill was a historian of medicine, specialising in Medieval Europe. His expertise focused on Medieval understandings of dreaming and sleep: how did people understand the activities of mind and body during periods when they were not wakeful yet remained active? Bill also was an expert on Medieval concepts of infancy and childhood development. He wanted to understand what adults thought they encountered when they were in the presence of children. For both subjects, Bill’s discoveries were fascinating and unexpected.

Bill was a scholar of the glorious old school. He was widely read, and he was precise in his choice of words. He asked questions about long intellectual histories, yet he never lost sight of the humans at the heart of his research. His writing and thinking were deliberately slow: patient, deliberative, and finished with intent. To colleagues and students, he was generous and gentle. He acted with little thought of credit for himself, and he always stepped away from the limelight so others could shine. Bill was the person you’d meet at a party, spend hours in splendid conversation, then notice days later that he had changed the way you understood the world.

At the time of his death, Bill was Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Science in UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). He joined STS in 2011, previously employed at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL as Lecturer in Medieval Medicine from 2007. Before moving to London, Bill held academic posts in America, including University of Tennessee, Knoxville (2006-07), Alfred University (2005-06), Temple University (2001-2005), Catholic University (2000), and Loyola University Maryland (1999-2000).

Bill was born on 21 October 1967 in New Providence, New Jersey in the United States. He earned his PhD (2000) and MA (1994) at Johns Hopkins University, and a BA from Vassar College (1989). His doctoral research became the core of his first book, A Tender Age: Cultural Anxieties over the Child in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. (Open access: http://www.gutenberg-e.org/maclehose/) This has been republished in several formats.

Bill was praised highly for his teaching skills and for his commitment to students. He was a popular lecturer and mentor. He brought compassion and empathy to pastoral and administrative duties, for example during the many years he managed the department’s Master’s programmes.

Bill’s publications are listed in UCL Discovery

He was especially proud of two recent publications. One was a collaboration with his close colleague, Dr Chiara Ambrosio, that led to the publication of the 2018 anthology, Imagining the Brain: Episodes in the Visual History of Brain Research (Academic Press, ISBN 978-0-12-814257-8)

Another was a paper long fermenting in Bill’s mind, yet wonderfully illustrative of his interests and expertise:

MacLehose, W. F. (2019). Captivating thoughts: nocturnal pollution, imagination and the sleeping mind in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Journal of Medieval History, 1-34. doi: 10.1080/03044181.2019.1695653.

Watching his work come to fruition, I felt I was seeing Bill come to acknowledge his own expertise. His voice was growing in confidence. He was appreciating that he, indeed, was an authority and that colleagues benefited from his contributions.

Bill can be heard in recent broadcasts, including:

When Greeks Flew Kites, 07 January 2019,

Historicising Stress: Anguish and Insomnia in the Middle Ages, 11 December 2018

Written by Professor Joe Cain

We have made an online book of condolences for those who knew Bill to remember him and share their memories: https://www.forevermissed.com/william-fleming-maclehose/about