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Professor Abigail Woods

Professor Abigail Woods

Dr Abigail Woods

Professor in the History of Human and Animal Health

Tel +44 (0)20 7848 7564
S8.28, Strand Building
Department of History
King's College London
London, WC2R 2L


Abigail Woods is a historian of science, technology and medicine. She trained in Cambridge and Manchester, and spent 8 years at Imperial College London before joining the department in 2013. Reflecting her earlier career as a veterinary surgeon, her research focuses on the history of animal health and agriculture in modern Britain, the evolution of veterinary medicine, and its interconnections with human medicine. She is currently leading a 5-year Wellcome Trust-funded programme of research on ‘One medicine? Investigating human and animal disease, c1850-2014’

Research Interests and PhD supervision
  • Human health, animal health and their intersections in 19th and 20th   century Britain. 
  • The history of livestock farming
  • The science, practice and policy of animal health and welfare
  • British veterinary history

The linking theme of my research is the history of animal health, and its intersections with histories of human health and agricultural production. My aim is not simply to develop new historical understandings of these issues, but to use the findings to shed light on the present. Currently, I am leading a 5-year programme of research sponsored by the Wellcome Trust entitledOne Medicine?  investigating human and animal disease. In revealing the frequent and diverse ways in which medical doctors engaged with problems of animal disease, this research is demonstrating that animals were far more important to the history of human health and medicine than previously realised. My earlier research addressed how and why livestock disease patterns and perceptions changed over time, along with concepts of health, welfare and productivity. Focussing on Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, I have explored the evolution of animal health science and policy, and the roles, values and expertise of practising and state vets. I am particularly interested in the evolution of modern livestock systems, and their implications for livestock health and human-animal relationships. 

My current research students are:

Julie Hipperson ('Veterinary Training and veterinary work: a female perspective, 1919-2000'. An AHRC-funded studentship pursued in collaboration with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Knowledge)

Esther Harper ('Nurturing the Thoroughbred: The making of the modern race horse in Britain, c1860-1939.' An AHRC-funded studentship pursued in collaboration with the National Horseracing Museum, Newmarket)

Agnes Arnold-Forster ('Breast cancer in 19th century Britain.' AHRC-funded)

Please contact me if you are interested in pursuing a PhD on the modern history of:

  • Health and medicine (of humans or animals)
  • Food and farming 
  • Animals 
  • Scientific experts

For more details, please see my full research profile.

Selected Publications
  • A Woods, ‘From practical men to scientific experts: British veterinary surgeons and the development of government scientific expertise, c1878-1919’, History of Science 51(4) (2013, forthcoming)
  • A Woods, ‘Is prevention better than cure? The rise and fall of veterinary preventive medicine, c1950-80’, Social History of Medicine 26 (2013), 113-131 
  • A Woods, ‘Rethinking the history of modern agriculture: Pig production in mid-20th century Britain.’ Twentieth Century British History 23 (2012), 165-91.

For a complete list of publications, please see Abigail's full research profile.

Expertise and Public Engagement

I believe in using history to help us understand the present and potentially to guide the future. In recent years, I have written for the popular and academic veterinary press, and given talks on the history of animal health policy and practice to audiences of scientists, vets, policy makers and farmers in Britain and internationally. My current research on the historical connections between human and animal disease research aims to inform the current drive for One Health. I am happy to speak on these issues to the media. In 2013 I appeared as the ‘lady vet’ on the BBC TV series, Wartime Farm.

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