Photo of Agnes Arnold-Forster

Agnes Arnold-Forster



Research output per year

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Personal profile


I am a medical and cultural historian of modern Britain. I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Roehampton, working on the Wellcome Trust funded project, ‘Surgery & Emotion’, which explores the affective landscape of surgery from c.1800 to the present day. My research on the project looks at emotions in surgery from the foundation of the NHS in 1948 to the present day. Using oral history interviews with currently practising and recently retired surgeons I am exploring their personal and professional lives, paying particular attention to the emotional costs of care and their relationship to the British health service. In addition, I look at cultural representations of surgeons and surgery focusing on mid-twentieth-century medical romance fiction.
I received my PhD from King’s College London in 2017. My thesis was entitled ‘A Riddle of the Sphinx: Cancer in Britain, 1792-1914’. My doctoral research used cancer as a lens through which to reconsider medical identity, therapeutic change, and the intellectual life of death in the long nineteenth century. Through extensive analysis of hospital archives, surgical tracts and treatises, and medical journal articles in both English and French, I argued that cancer was constructed as a disease of civilisation – an unintended consequence of social and biological progress. My thesis tracked cancer’s journey through a range of medical and scientific disciplines; including public health, histology, bacteriology, and colonial medicine. While my study was focused on the Four Nations of the British Isles, it situated the cultural history of cancer in its international context, tracing its contours across Europe, North America, and the British Empire. It acknowledged the transnational nature of nineteenth-century medicine and argued that cancer’s identification as a ‘disease of modern life’ was a product of comparisons drawn between ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’ bodies, and between ‘improved’ and ‘unimproved’ ways of living. This research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
Prior to commencing my PhD I completed an MSc in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Imperial College London and UCL and a BA in Modern History at the University of Oxford. I also have professional experience in public, sexual, and reproductive health, and international development.

Education/Academic qualification

King's College London

Award Date: 31 Jan 2018

Imperial College London

Award Date: 1 Oct 2013

University of Oxford

Award Date: 6 Jun 2012

Research Output

'A Rebellion of the Cells': Cancer, Modernity, and Decline in Fin-de-Siècle Britain

Arnold-Forster, A., Jan 2020, Progress and Pathology: Medicine and Culture in the Nineteenth Century. Shuttleworth, S., Dickson, M. & Taylor-Brown, E. (eds.). Manchester University Press

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Gender and Pain in Nineteenth‐Century Cancer Care

Arnold-Forster, A., 5 Mar 2020, In : GENDER AND HISTORY. 17 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Resilience in Surgery

Arnold-Forster, A., 4 Mar 2020, In : British Journal of Surgery. 107, 4, p. 332-333 2 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Open Access

Doctors’ Wellbeing: Learning from the Past Can Help Improve the Future

Arnold-Forster, A., 1 Oct 2018, In : BMJ.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


  • 2 Media article or participation

Being seen as an ‘NHS Hero’ comes at a cost

Agnes Arnold-Forster (Organiser)

21 Apr 2020

Activity: Public engagement and outreachMedia article or participation

We’re stuck fighting a 21st century public health crisis with 100-year-old medical techniques

Agnes Arnold-Forster (Organiser)

24 Apr 2020

Activity: Public engagement and outreachMedia article or participation