The Medieval Institute is pleased to present our Spring 2023 Alumni Spotlight. In this series we feature the career paths of institute alumni. Look for a new installment each semester, and follow our weekly news features regarding Medieval Institute-supported programming, events, guest lectures and general medievalist news on our news and events feed.
This semester's spotlight features Hilary Ott, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2013 with a B.A. in Medieval Studies and a minor in Italian. After graduation, Ott pursued a Master's Degree in Arts Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York and then held positions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
As of January of this year, Ott has brought her talents back to South Bend, serving as Notre Dame's newest Academic Advancement Director for Arts & Architecture. In this role, she works to support the University's art museum, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, and the School of Architecture.
We sat down with Ott to learn about her experience as as a student at the Medieval Institute and how her background in Medieval Studies has served her throughout her career.
What initially sparked your interest in Medieval Studies?
As a high schooler applying to college, I knew I wanted to pursue a Liberal Arts education, but I had difficulty landing on a single subject. I was attracted to Medieval Studies at Notre Dame due to the interdisciplinary nature of the major. Taking classes from multiple disciplines allowed me to pursue a variety of passions.
Did you develop a favorite area within medieval studies?
I enjoyed all of my Medieval Studies classes, from an English class on Arthurian Literature to a History class titled “Castles, Kingdoms & Cathedrals.” But my favorite area of study was Art History. I had always been interested in art and art history and was fortunate to have some outstanding professors during my time at Notre Dame who helped me develop this interest into a passion.
My favorite class was “Art of the Medieval Codex,” taught by Danielle Joyner. Projects and papers for this class often necessitated spending time with manuscripts in Rare Books & Special Collections at Hesburgh Library. Having access to concrete examples of what we were studying in class was thrilling and inspiring.
While my career path might seem atypical for a medieval scholar, I nevertheless attribute my professional success to the interdisciplinary education I received in Medieval Studies.
What is one of your best memories of your time at the Institute?
My best memory from my time with the Medieval Institute actually took place off campus! I spent the spring semester of my junior year studying abroad at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The cohort from Notre Dame that semester included me and one other student, and we spent that spring living in one of the most important pilgrimage destinations of medieval Scotland. I loved being immersed in the history I had been studying. During that spring break, a Ph.D. candidate from the Medieval Institute joined us in the UK and we traveled to other cathedral cities, including Durham and York. It was an incredible experience.
How has your study of the Middle Ages impacted your career since graduating?
After graduating from Notre Dame, I earned a Master’s Degree in Arts Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York. This program took my existing art history knowledge and combined it with business classes, preparing me for my eventual foray into the art world—first as an Old Master Paintings & European Works of Art administrator at Sotheby’s and then in Private Sales at Christie’s.
I have recently moved back to South Bend to be the new Academic Advancement Director for the Arts & Architecture at Notre Dame. In this role, I serve as a philanthropic advisor for the Snite Museum (soon to be Raclin Murphy Museum), DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, and the School of Architecture. I work to promote each unit’s funding priorities with fundraisers and benefactors at Notre Dame’s Office of Development.
While my career path might seem atypical for a medieval scholar, I nevertheless attribute my professional success to the interdisciplinary education I received in Medieval Studies. The variety of classes and subjects I was exposed to helped me to hone essential critical thinking skills. They also taught me how to approach problems through multiple lenses. I am now almost two months into my new role here at Notre Dame, and while the learning curve is steep, I am grateful for this opportunity to explore another passion as I once did as a student in the Medieval Institute.
Do you have advice for current majors and/or minors, or those considering Medieval Studies, about why they should pursue Medieval Studies?
For prospective students, the Middle Ages were not the "Dark Ages"! Don't be fooled by this misnomer! This period saw incredible advancements in a number of areas, including educational philosophy, agriculture, science, art, and architecture. Odds are that any subject you're interested in has roots that can be traced back to the medieval era.
For current students, take advantage of any programing offered by the Medieval Institute and by Notre Dame in general. Talk to your peers and professors. Learn about their interests and research. Networking is an incredibly important part of the professional world. Start building and maintaining these relationships as you never know how your respective paths may cross in the future.