Dr Agnes Arnold-Forster

Chancellor's Fellow; History of Medicine, History of Emotions, Modern British History


After completing a BA in history at the University of Oxford, I received my AHRC-funded MSc in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine from Imperial College London. My AHRC-funded PhD on cancer in nineteenth-century Britain was supervised by Professor Abigail Woods and Dr Caitjan Gainty at King's College London. I then worked at the University of Roehampton, Queen Mary, University of London, UCL, the University of Bristol, McGill University, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I joined the University of Edinburgh in 2023 as Chancellor's Fellow.

From May 2023, I will be on maternity leave.


Useful Links



Research summary


  • Britain & Ireland
  • North America


  • Gender
  • Medicine, Science & Technology
  • Society


  • Nineteenth Century
  • Twentieth Century & After

Current research interests

I am a historian of modern and contemporary medicine, healthcare, and the emotions. My first monograph, The Cancer Problem: Malignancy in Nineteenth-Century Britain, was published by Oxford University Press in 2021, and is coming out in paperback in August 2023. My second monograph, Cold, Hard Steel: The Myth of the Modern Surgeon, is being published by Manchester University Press in June 2023. I'm currently working on my third monograph, Nostalgia: A Biography, under contract with Picador and due to be published in summer 2024. As Chancellor's Fellow, I will be researching the recent history of health activism, scepticism, and medical mistrust in the United Kingdom. I am interested in finding out where the NHS has gone wrong, how it has failed some of its constituent communities, and what alternatives have been proposed and developed. My work will trace where and why the health service has sown discord and distrust, rather than engendering the more widely reported faith and allegiance. This work builds on a project I have been co-running with Dr Caitjan Gainty (KCL) since 2019 called Healthy Scepticism, initially funded by the Wellcome Trust. Tracking a chronology that stretches from the early-twentieth-century dissenters of medical orthodoxy, to the critical, anti-establishment voices of mid-century, and up to our current coronavirus crisis, this multimedia, multidisciplinary project seeks to know and contextualise those who have been placed or placed themselves outside of healthcare’s formal limits. Listening to the voices of medicine’s critics, its doubters, its dispossessed, its antagonists means taking seriously their complaints, offering another way to tell the fraught twentieth-century history of healthcare. In previous roles, I have researched the place of charity in the NHS; the history of healthcare professional emotions, workplace identities, and well-being; the myth of the modern surgeon; and cancer in nineteenth-century Britain.

Knowledge exchange

I have organised large and small events for academics, members of the public, and healthcare professionals, and consulted on and co-curated exhibitions, including the Royal College of Nursing's permanent exhibition Who Cares? A History of Emotions in Nursing.

I regularly appear on radio and podcasts, including BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, and BBC Radio Scotland, and have consulted on TV documentaries and dramas.

I regularly write for non-academic publications, including The TLS, The Guardian, The Washington Post, the LRB, The Independent, The Times, and The i. 

Books - Authored

Agnes Arnold-Forster, The Cancer Problem: Malignancy in Nineteenth-Century Britain, (Oxford University Press, 2021)

Books - Co-Edited

Agnes Arnold-Forster and Alison Moulds (eds.), Emotions and Work in Modern History: Emotional Labour and Emotions about Labour, (Bloomsbury, 2022)


Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘Clio in the Operating Theatre: Emotion, Historical Research, and Surgical Training in Contemporary Britain’, Journal for the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, (March 2023)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘Ordinary People and the 1979 Royal Commission on the NHS’, Twentieth Century British History, (January 2023)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, Jacob Moses, and Samuel Schotland, ‘Lessons from History: Obstacles to Promoting Doctors’ Emotional Health’, New England Journal of Medicine, (January 2022)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘The Social and Emotional World of Twentieth-Century Anglo-American Surgery: The James IV Association of Surgeons’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, (January 2022)

Agnes Arnold-Forster and Caitjan Gainty, ‘To Save the NHS we Need to Stop Loving It’, Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy, (December 2021)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘Medicine and the Body in Second-Wave Feminist Histories of the Nineteenth Century’, History, (October 2021)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘Racing Pulses: Gender, Professionalism and Health Care in Medical Romance Fiction’, History Workshop Journal, (July 2021)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘Gender & Pain in Nineteenth-Century Cancer Care’, Gender and History, (March 2020)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘A Small Cemetery: Death and Dying in the Contemporary British Operating Theatre’, Medical Humanities, (July 2019)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘Mapmaking and Mapthinking: Cancer as a Problem of Place in Nineteenth-Century England’, Social History of Medicine, (October 2018)


Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘The Emotional Landscape of the Hospital Residence in Post-war Britain’, in Agnes Arnold-Forster and Alison Moulds (eds.), Feelings and Work: Emotional Labour and Emotions about Labour, (Bloomsbury 2022)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘“A Rebellion of the Cells”: Cancer, Modernity, and Decline in Fin-de-Siècle Britain’, in Sally Shuttleworth, Melissa Dickson and Emilie Taylor-Brown (eds.), Progress and Pathology: Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century, (Manchester University Press 2020)

Agnes Arnold-Forster, ‘The Pre-History of the Paleo Diet: Cancer and Dietary Innovation in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, in David Gentilcore and Matthew Smith (eds.), Proteins, Pathologies, and Politics, (Bloomsbury 2018)