A professor at Saint Xavier University since 1991, Hiltner teaches courses on early American literature, cultural appropriations on narrative in the early American Republic, history of the book, and the fiction of Herman Melville. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including pieces on Herman Melville, Philip Freneau and on literary treatments of Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War.
Her areas of expertise include early American literature and culture, literature's cultural role in the early American Republic, Herman Melville, history of the book in the New Republic, and the impact of rapid diffusion of print in the early Republic.
Hiltner served as the chairperson of the English Department at Saint Xavier from 1991 to 1997. In 1998, she was the founding director of the undergraduate honors program and was appointed as associate dean for the School of Arts and Sciences.