Yesterday, I came across a project I had long forgotten about. In the summer of 2006, between my junior and senior years at Calvin College, I earned a fellowship that paid for me to act as a research assistant to resident Miltonist, David Urban. He was compiling John Milton: An Annotated Bibliography, 1989-1999, which is exactly what it sounds like: a catalog of everything written and published on John Milton in the last 11 years of the 20th century, with copious explanations of all 2,411 items.
I was responsible for checking citations, cleaning up the grammar of the annotations (Prof. Urban had inherited the manuscript from the late Calvin Huckabay), and even wrote a few entries myself. Not the most exciting way to spend a summer when you’re 21, but it did provide my first foray into academia, and I learned valuable research skills.
Just now looking at the published book for the first time, it feels strange – all those hours to provide a simple research tool that a handful of scholars will probably look at with bemusement, to see how their works are summarized, or that undergrad English majors will look at in frustration, overwhelmed by the secondary literature on one, single writer.
It also makes me wonder about the role of providence (or chance) in shaping our lives. What if, after that summer, I had been inspired to become a Miltonist myself? What if I would have ceased my (ever-elusive) pursuit of the Chinese language after a mere 3 years of study, and gone on to study early modern English literature? Would I be just on the other side of the lawn here, in McCosh Hall? Or would I have given up, content to a life of closed-captioning and struggling to write?
On a more banal level, it was satisfying to see my own name in the Preface to this book.