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PURE Award winners 2015: Melissa Glass

Budding historian tracks real-life murder and punishment documented in 17th century British chapbooks


June 18, 2015

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: Melissa Glass

Degree sought: "I have just completed my fourth year of a combined Bachelor of Arts in honours history and Bachelor of Commerce in international business."

Research topic: "My project is entitled “’The Most Cruel and Bloody Murder’: Crime Reporting in Early Stuart England.” It is a comparative analysis of two short stories (chapbooks) that were published in 1606 describing the true story of a young boy’s murder and the mutilation of his sister, as well as the resulting investigation and execution of the perpetrators. The chapbooks are especially interesting because they tell the same story but from different perspectives and each adds unique details to the events."

What attracted you to this particular research project? "I had already worked on these “true crime” chapbooks with my supervisor, Dr. MacMillan, for a different project during the summer of 2014, and so I understood the potential value that these sources offered for historians. These chapbooks tell a very interesting and universal story about the dangers which can exist in daily life and how society functions in the face of these dangers, and the fact that it is a tale based on true events makes it even more intriguing. Also, my honours thesis is going to be focused on early modern English social history, and so the details that these sources provide regarding daily life and normal people in early seventeenth century England is truly fascinating to me and relevant to my own research."

Why is this research important? "This research is important because there are a lot of preconceived notions about what crime and punishment was like in preindustrial Europe, and it is only through deep analysis of the available primary source materials that historians are able to get a sense for what the reality of the situation would have been for people. Researching crime stories is especially revealing because they involve moments of crisis and disruption in the lives of the people involved, and so these terrible events reveal a great deal about what was most valued by society. These chapbooks are a vivid way for modern readers to develop empathy towards people who experienced real tragedy and turmoil centuries ago in a way that many historical sources do not allow."

What do you hope to achieve with this research? "The ultimate goal of this project is for my supervisor and I to write and publish an article together about the creation and use of these chapbooks. I hope to discover something about how England’s criminal justice system operated within local communities in the early seventeenth century, as well as how people dealt with criminal behaviour and conflict in their neighbourhoods and daily lives."

What do you love most about your field of study? "I love that history is basically just a series of stories about real life that we hand down from each generation in order to help us make sense of the world in which we currently live. Studying history provides me with a broad and compelling perspective of how societies have functioned around the world throughout time, and I truly believe that this understanding has helped me to live a more fulfilling life because it has illuminated the fundamental humanity which underpins almost everything we do on earth."

> Learn more about other PURE Award winners from the Faculty of Arts