Kaitlin Peters

Summer Research scholar
Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities

Project: Robert Burton’s Unique Theories of Religious Melancholy

Over the summer of 2017/18, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write a short research paper with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities (IASH). I chose to explore the relationship between medicine and religion in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621. I read modern discussions of Burton’s book and his theories, contemporary publications that talk about similar content matter to Burton, and read primary accounts of people experiencing melancholy in Burton’s time. At the end of my research, I found that Burton’s theories of melancholy were unique, both in comparison to his contemporaries’ theories, as well as when situated in his religious and political context.

However, this conclusion is not the only thing I learnt from my experience as a summer scholar; I also discovered that I love academic research. While reading through books and publications published around 400 years ago may sound tedious, it is fascinating to study the thoughts of the people from this time, and to compare these with other contemporary and modern thoughts. It was very interesting to see how the melancholy that Burton and his contemporaries write about is similar in some ways to modern understandings of mental illness. Seeing how medical and social understandings and discussions have changed over time was also fascinating, as is the changes in beliefs of the role of religion and the supernatural in affecting this condition.

The extended time frame and direct support from a supervisor, (as well as the interest from the rest of the faculty), was wonderful in helping me hone my skills – and made the whole experience fun! My topic is a bit niche, (as I believe most extended research projects are), so it was amazing to be able to talk about this research with a group of people who were interested and willing to support and help guide the development of this research topic. This, as well as the presentation I made at the end of the program, helped grow my confidence in discussing and presenting original arguments. This skill, as well as the researching, writing and editing skills I gained in the program has been invaluable to me, and I am looking forward to continuing to use them all as I continue studying and researching.

I am also now really encouraged to pursue Honours, and would highly recommend anyone else considering this to apply for the program. I had an amazing experience, and I am very grateful I had the opportunity to learn more about what an academic research career looks like.  

Kaitlin Peters