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PURE Award winners 2014: Sarah Horsfall

PURE student explores the impact of forensic science in Guatemalan courtrooms


July 7, 2014

By Heath McCoy
July 7, 2014

Committed to a goal of research excellence with its bold Eyes High strategy, one of the University of Calgary’s most important initiatives is the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience, better known as PURE. 

Each year undergraduates can apply for the prestigious PURE Awards, which provide financial research support to some of the university’s most promising students over the Spring and Summer months. 

The program is designed to give undergraduate students the opportunity to learn how to develop research projects, undertake independent research and contribute to knowledge in their respective fields. 

In this Q&A series we will meet the PURE Award winners from the Faculty of Arts. Good luck to each of them in their research pursuits! 

Name – Sarah Horsfall

Degree sought – Graduated in June with a BA in Social and Cultural Anthropology. 

Research Topic – From Grave to Courtroom: The Social Life of Forensic Evidence in Post-Civil War Guatemala

Supervisor – Assistant Professor Sabrina Peric (Anthropology) 

What attracted you to this research project? – “A guest lecturer gave a presentation on the exhumation process in Guatemala and its importance in the second attempt at prosecuting Ríos Montt. (Montt  was an army general who was President of Guatemala from 1982 to 1983, his time in office marked by the Guatemalan Civil War. He was later accused of genocide and crimes against humanity). I felt inspired and decided to travel to Guatemala for my research project, to work with forensic teams. I plan to attend law school and will be specializing in international law. This research is a great opportunity to learn more about the international legal process. “  

Why is this research important? – “International legal cases, such as that of Ríos Montt, demonstrate that individuals convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide can evade justice. In researching knowledge production and examining the ways that particular knowledge is represented in court, we can attempt to understand the ways in which evidence can be miscommunicated, failing to achieve its intended goals.” 

What do you hope to achieve with this research? –  “My research proposes the possibility that the production of forensic science can actually be subjective, and can influence legal proceedings considerably. Through my research, I will be able to describe not only the ways that different forms of evidentiary knowledge are produced for trial, but also suggest ways of incorporating these different forms of knowledge into legal frameworks in order to strengthen the possibility of conviction.”

What do you love most about your field of study? – “The humanitarian aspect of my field of study is what I love most. The research that I will be conducting in Guatemala is part of a larger initiative to bring peace to the families of murdered victims. Being involved in this process is a privilege and I am very thankful for this opportunity.”