Ronald Hoffman, noted historian

Ronald Hoffman, a history and American Revolutionary War scholar who edited the papers of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, died of progressive supranuclear palsy Sept. 4 at Williamsburg Landing in Williamsburg, Va. The former Northwest Baltimore resident was 77.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Hampden and later in Mount Washington, he was was the son of Dr. Emanuel Hoffman, a dentist who practiced on West 36th Street, and his wife, Ethel Lubin, a secretary.

Family members said that Dr. Hoffman often spoke warmly of his years at Public School 55 in Hampden, where he said he was the only Jewish student, and of his time spent at the Falls Road Enoch Pratt Free Library’s story hour.

“He was a warm and caring person,” said his sister, Joanne Giza, of Baltimore. “Even though I was his little annoying sister, he was always good to me and looked out for me.”

He was a 1959 graduate of Baltimore City College, where he played football. He then joined the Navy and served as a sea duty helmsman aboard the USS Newport News. After leaving military service in 1961, he earned an associate’s degree at the old Baltimore Junior College and received a bachelor’s degree at the George Peabody College, now part of Vanderbilt University.

He earned a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 1969 he joined the history department at the University of Maryland College Park, where he rose to be a professor of history. His first book, “A Spirit of Dissension: Economics, Politics, and the Revolution in Maryland,” was published by the Johns Hopkins Press in 1973.

In 1978 he began a series of conferences, held at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., that focused on the American Revolutionary and early years of the new republic.

In 1992 he was hired to direct what is now the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture at the College of William & Mary, where he was also a history professor.

A statement from William & Mary said Dr. Hoffman organized academic conferences on slavery. These began in 1998 with a meeting to introduce the publication of the W. E. B. Dubois Institute Dataset of Slaving Voyages and included a conference held in Ghana in 2007 to mark the 200th anniversary of British efforts to end the transatlantic slave trade.

“At Maryland and at William & Mary, Dr. Hoffman was a mentor and adviser to scores of graduate students,” the college’s statement said. “His undergraduate and graduate courses on the American Revolution were justly famous among William & Mary students for the depth and breadth of reading he required.”

Dr. Hoffman was also the editor of the papers of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a collection housed at the Maryland Historical Society.

"They are the most valuable personal papers we have for Maryland's history, " Dr. Hoffman said in a 2004 Sun article. "They're unique for Maryland, and they are unique for the entire history of the early republic because they are so deeply intimate."

"The letters reveal not only the national and international currents and development in Maryland, but also chart the important personal history of this family. There's nothing else like it,” he said of the collection.

Mary C. Jeske, an editor of the Carroll family papers, first met Dr. Hoffman when she was a graduate student at Maryland in 1986.

“Ron was a wonderful, generous, caring adviser, mentor, employer, and friend,” she recalled. “Ron genuinely cared about all of his graduate students, considering them his lifelong responsibility.”

She also said, “He was extraordinarily loyal and kind and generous with his time. … he continued to be my mentor and adviser, overseeing the completion of my dissertation, despite having no obligation to do so.”

In 2001 he published, with co-editors Sally D. Mason and Eleanor S. Darcy, the first three of the projected seven volumes. The first set of books were titled, “Dear Papa, Dear Charley: The Peregrinations of a Revolutionary Aristocrat, as Told by Charles Carroll of Carrollton and His Father, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, with Sundry Observations on Bastardy, Child-Rearing, Romance, Matrimony, Commerce, Tobacco, Slavery, and the Politics of Revolutionary America.”

The books received the Maryland Historical Society Book Prize and the J. Franklin Jameson award from the American Historical Society.

At his death, he, with his collaborators, was working on the final four volumes of the Carroll Papers. Family members said he often returned to Baltimore and enjoyed walking the streets of his old neighborhood — Hampden.

“Ron had exacting standards and his comments could sting — he didn’t always remember to put on his kid gloves,” said Michael Guasco, a former student who now teaches at Davidson College. “Ron was also an incredibly generous mentor who gave of himself more than I should have reasonably expected. He was invariably kind, caring, and a tireless advocate.”

A life celebration will be held at 5 p.m. Nov. 6 at the College of William & Mary’s Wren Hall in Williamsburg. Dr. Hoffman was buried earlier this month at Moshav Sde Nitzan in Israel.

Ib addition to his sister, survivors include his partner and academic collaborator, Sally Mason, of Williamsburg; a daughter, Maia Hoffman of Israel; a son, Barak Hoffman, of Washington, D.C.; and a great niece and great nephew.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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