Matthew Ritger

Cohort 2014–2015. I arrived at Princeton in 2014, after completing an MFA at Cornell University and teaching as a lecturer in the English department there. My masters program was an important confidence builder for me in several regards. As I entered the PhD I knew I enjoyed graduate level course work, and I knew I enjoyed designing and teaching undergraduate courses. The work cut out for me at Princeton was therefore to gain the depth of specialization and the skills required in my chosen subfield of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature. Princeton proved to be an excellent place for that. In my course work and through summers supported by Princeton at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Rare Book School, I was able to deepen my knowledge of early modern culture, learn basic paleography, conduct archival research, and ultimately change the scope of the questions I wanted to ask about historical literature. Coursework in the history and philosophy departments also changed my ambitions for my dissertation project. Ultimately, almost by accident, a book in Special Collections proved essential. Research grants allowed me to travel in England and across the U.S., searching for marginalia in copies of Thomas More’s Utopia, but it turned out that one of the copies held in Firestone was the most fascinating and densely annotated of any I could find. The chance to work with that copy slowly and over the course of several years in the basement of Firestone proved indispensable.

In my fifth year, I was named a Jacobus Fellow by the Graduate School, which was an honorific, but also a “completion” fellowship, meaning that I had to articulate a plan to finish my dissertation and enter the job market in my fifth year. I had two Zoom interviews that year, but neither went anywhere. As I entered my sixth year in 2019–2020, however, I was more ready for the job market. I explored research-oriented academic positions, including postdocs and tenure track jobs, and I also considered careers in academic administration and secondary school teaching. The English Department and the Graduate School, as well as my dedicated advisers (Leonard Barkan, Bradin Cormack, Sophie Gee, and Nigel Smith) were all exceptionally helpful, as was the secondary school recruitment firm Carney Sandoe & Associates.

That year, a Dissertation Completion Fellowship, and an optional ensuing Postdoctoral Fellow position at Princeton, were crucial to my success. These fellowships allowed me to demonstrate my proximity to completion, while also providing material support while I looked for a job. In the end, I had a campus visit at a private high school in Boston, a final round interview for a position in academic administration, and, to my surprise, a campus visit for a tenure track job for which I had done a video interview in the previous cycle, when the position remained unfilled. I didn’t get the administrative job, or the high school job, but I was offered a position as an assistant professor of early modern literature and culture in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.

I completed my PhD in January 2020 and took up the DCF postdoctoral position for the Spring semester at Princeton, since I planned to move to New Hampshire at the end of the spring. Instead, the Covid-19 pandemic happened. Eventually I made it to Hanover in the midst of the lockdowns, where I undertook teaching and everything else for the duration of my first year on Zoom. But that’s another story.