MIT professor’s book digs into the eclectic, textually linked reading choices of people in medieval London.
Professor Harriet Ritvo has been appointed head of the history section, effective July 1. Professor Peter C. Perdue will step down after serving as section head since 1990.
In announcing Professor Ritvo's appointment, Philip S. Khoury, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science, said, "She is a gifted scholar, outstanding intellectual and seasoned administrator. I look forward to working closely with Harriet for the higher good of the history faculty, the School and the Institute."
"Working with my colleagues in history has been one of the great pleasures of my years at MIT. I'm looking forward to taking on the challenge of this appointment," said Professor Ritvo.
Professor Ritvo earned the AB from Harvard University, attended Girton College at Cambridge University in England, and received the PhD from Harvard in 1975. She came to MIT as a lecturer in writing in 1979, became an assistant professor in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies in 1980, and was promoted to tenured associate professor of writing in 1987.
In 1991, she was appointed to a joint position in the history faculty and the writing program. She was promoted to full professor of history and writing in 1992. From 1992-95, she served as associate dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science. In 1995, she was selected as the inaugural holder of the Arthur J. Conner Professorship.
Professor Ritvo is an internationally known scholar of the Victorian period and an accomplished essayist who has written widely on topics in the humanities and social sciences. Her first book, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Harvard University Press, 1987), is considered a seminal work in British cultural history. It opened up a new field of inquiry within Victorian studies, taking what had once been regarded as a marginal topic (animals) and using it to cast new light on the central values and tenets of British culture.
Her latest book, The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1997), has received worldwide praise for its original study of the cultural significance of animal classification in 18th- and 19th- century Britain. Professor Ritvo has received numerous honors including the Whiting Writers' Award and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Humanities Center.
Professor Perdue has served as head of history for the past nine years. "Peter has strengthened the history faculty in all its dimensions and has provided our School's leadership with the most important and valued intellectual counsel during his tenure," Dean Khoury said.
A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 28).