posted on: Thursday April 22, 2010
Kaitlyn Monast ’13/Asst. News Editor
From the West Country of England to Eastern New England, assistant professor of English Russell Hillier, Ph.D., found his paradise within the walls of Providence College. Hillier was born in a village in Avon, near Shakespeare’s proclaimed Stratford-on-Avon birthplace. “One thing students don’t realize is an English accent is just an English accent and for some reason, people like to hear it,” he said. “I suppose I have a country ‘burr’ in my voice, like a twang, that people in my classes never notice.”Hillier went to grammar school in Bristol from age seven to age 18. As a child, Hillier acted and was involved in drama. However, he assures everyone that his aspirations were not in acting. He always knew he wanted to be involved in literature as either a writer or a professor. With limited choices in England, he chose to focus on Ancient Greek, Latin, and English in order to maximize his options. He began down a “lit path,” doing three years at Corpus Christi College at Oxford. “I was the first person to go to university in my family,” he said. “It gave me an appreciation for the value and gift of education.”Hillier completed his master’s and bachelor’s degrees as a joint major in the Classics, Latin and ancient Greek language and literature and English, also taking classes in Russian literature, like Dostoevsky.At the end of his first year of undergraduate studies at Oxford, Hillier wanted to take a year off to familiarize himself with a different type of literature.”The more I studied literature, the more I felt like something was missing,” he said. “I wanted to take a year off to study the Bible.”After a recommendation from a professor, Hillier eventually traveled across the ocean to Vancouver, Canada to attend Regent College where he would get his masters in theology. While studying in Canada, Hillier met his wife. He broke off his studies to teach in a city school, which he described as “difficult.” “It was quite challenging and in a way increased my gratitude for being able to teach in the academy,” he said. “When the students did learn the material, it was magical to see their faces light up because you have inspired them.”Hillier stayed in New York, working in a book shop while his wife completed her master’s degree at Columbia. Hillier also gained teaching experience in Washington, D.C., and in Dulwich College in the U.K., which was founded by Renaissance actor Edward Alleyn.With a strong background in English literature, theology, philosophy, and the Classics, Hillier was encouraged to begin Renaissance literature. Instead of studying more Russian literature, Hillier traveled back home to the U.K. and spent the next four-and-a-half years studying Milton at Cambridge University, getting his Ph.D. “By that time, I knew a little Hebrew, so I could at least get a hook into the way he thinks,” said Hillier. With his hook in Milton, Hillier found his ideal job description in a Providence College advertisement. The requirements included a background in Milton and the Renaissance, but also a willingness to be involved in the Development of Western Civilization Program.”It is as much about you being right for the institution as the institution being right for you,” he said. “It was a perfect fit.”Hillier’s first impression of the College was the politeness of the students. He joked, however, that there is “a lot more going on in their heads.”Hillier teaches literature classes including Milton, Seventeenth-Century Literature, Introduction to Literature, and writing courses.He believes in the power and importance of incorporating humor into his teaching, and he takes care to establish the relevance of the literature he teaches. According to Hillier, the radical ideas of the Renaissance are not far off from our own. The Renaissance was a “time where people were not afraid to question the world they lived in.””He brings a fresh and unique teaching style to PC and is unanimously well-liked among his students,” said Rachel Sheehan ’11.