Vol. 17, No. 39Aug. 20, 1998

Historian to receive Francis Alison Award

Carol Hoffecker's first visit to the University was as a 6-year-old, driven down from Wilmington with her mother and father (a "very loyal UD alumnus and football fan" who attended the University in the '20s) to have dinner in a Main Street restaurant that was housed in what is now Raub Hall.

She recalled how impressed she was, walking around the Mall and Old College, not realizing what a major role UD would play in her life and how involved she would become with the school, as a student, alumna, professor, author and administrator.

This year, Hoffecker, who is Richards Professor of History, has been selected as the recipient of the Francis Alison Award, one of the University's most prestigious honors for faculty.

The award, which consists of a $6,000 honorarium and medal, recognizes scholarship, professional achievements and dedication and will be presented at New Student Convocation, scheduled at 11 a.m., Monday, Aug. 31, on the Mall.

In recommending her for the award, Kevin Kerrane, English, who chairs the Student and Faculty Honors Committee of the University Faculty Senate, wrote, "This award is given to recognize those faculty members who have contributed across the spectrum of faculty work, and Dr. Hoffecker has done so with enormous talent, energy, good humor and exceptional dedication to the University." He added that her "career far transcends the University campus," and that "from school children to public-policy planners, Delaware can be grateful for this truly public historian."

"It is a very great honor to receive the Alison Award and to be in the company of scholars and teachers who have done so much for the University," Hoffecker said. "As an historian who has studied and written about the University, I am familiar with what former Alison Award recipients have contributed to Delaware, and I am pleased to become one of them. John Munroe [H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of History], who also focused on University and Delaware history, was the first from the history department to receive the Alison Award, which indicates the respect the University has for its own traditions and for the history of our state."

A graduate of Mt. Pleasant High School, Hoffecker majored in history at UD, graduating in 1960. "I always loved history. My mother read to me from a book called The History of the United States for Young People and would emphasize that 'this is real,' which impressed me. I liked the pictures of the costumes people wore. I enjoyed historic buildings, like Old Swedes Church, and used to imagine what life was like in the past," she recalled.

"I had some wonderful professors here who started me on my way as a historian--John Munroe; Eve Clift, who taught ancient history; Jan DeArmond, who taught English literature; and Paul Dolan, who taught state government."

As an undergraduate, Hoffecker wrote her senior thesis on Delaware during the War of 1812 and the siege of Lewes, which was the last time a foreign power directly attacked the state. It was her first research effort about the history of Delaware, which in her later career would be the focus of much of her research and writing.

Hoffecker then left for Harvard University where she received her master's degree from Radcliffe College and her doctorate from Harvard in 1967. While working on her dissertation, she launched on her teaching career at Sweet Briar College from 1963-65. "It was a good introduction to teaching-the students were well trained, well behaved and the classes were small. It was a joy to teach there," she recalled.

Her next teaching assignment at Northeastern University in Boston was quite different, but just as rewarding. "The classes were large, most students were first-generation college students and attended part time, but they were motivated and eager to learn. Teaching at both schools was a valuable experience," she said.

Hoffecker returned to Delaware in 1968 as a junior resident scholar at the Hagley Museum and Library to begin work on a history of Delaware. In 1970, she became coordinator of the Hagley Graduate Program and taught courses on Delaware history and urban history at the University. In 1973, she became a full-time faculty member. "The years at Hagley were beneficial," she said. "While I was doing research, I couldn't help but learn some business history and the history of technology from the scholars and students who gathered there."

The following year, Hoffecker began her career as a prolific author with Wilmington, Delaware, Portrait of an Industrial City: 1830-1900, published by the University of Virginia Press.

This was followed by Brandywine Village, commissioned by Old Brandywine Village Inc., an organization formed to preserve the old stone millers' homes on North Market Street in Wilmington. "I was particularly interested in this project because my great, great grandfather had been a miller in Wilmington."

This book, in turn, was followed by Corporate Capital: Wilmington in the Twentieth Century. "I focused on different categories-immigrants, education, politics and women, for example. I read through old newspapers on microfilm for eight hours a day. I also did live interviews. Pearl Herlihy, the wife of Tom Herlihy, a former Wilmington mayor, was particularly helpful with a lot of information about urban renewal and planning. This book led to Wilmington: A Pictorial History in 1982," Hoffecker said.

Delaware: A Bicentennial History was commissioned in 1976 by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of a project to produce histories of each state, written from the personal perspective of native writers. Hoffecker organized her volume thematically around the history of the environment in Delaware, the diversity of its people and the development of the state's government.

From 1983-1988, Hoffecker chaired the history department. When her five years as chairperson drew to a close, she was asked to assist in the provost's office on an interim basis. This became formalized when she was named associate provost for graduate studies, a position she held from November 1988 until June 1995. "But," she said, "teaching is my primary career, and I taught every semester.

"I want to get my students excited and interested in history, to give them the background to become good citizens and to have a better understanding of the world we live in," she said.

Looking back on her years as associate provost, she said, "One of my goals was to make the graduate office not only an administrative office but a cohesive part of the academic life of the University. We started fall luncheons for directors of graduate studies and their secretaries from all the departments, so they could meet each other and learn about our office.

"First-year graduate students, with other new students, were welcomed to the University at a reception given by the president. The office offered competitive fellowships to the best graduate students at UD in recognition of their excellent work, and a reception was held each spring for the winners and their advisers. One problem was students who were having difficulty completing their dissertations, and I would meet with them and their advisers to set up a doable schedule to encourage them to finish their degrees," Hoffecker said.

Meantime, her writing continued. At the request of Joseph Longobardi, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for Delaware, she wrote Federal Justice in the First State, a history of the judges and the significant cases that have come before the federal court, beginning with Gunning Bedford Jr., a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, who was appointed to the court by President George Washington.

While doing research for this book, she read a portion the papers of the late U.S. Sen. John Williams, which had been given to the University. Williams had been insistent on the appointment of Judge Caleb Wright to the bench in spite of strong opposition from the law community in northern Delaware. Hoffecker became interested in this unusually apolitical senator and has written a book about his career, with the working title Honest John Williams.

Other books by Hoffecker include Delaware, The First State for school-aged children, which is used in classrooms throughout the state and was commissioned by the Delaware State Heritage Commission during the bicentennial of the Constitution; Beneath Thy Guiding Hand: A History of Women at the University of Delaware for the Office of Women's Affairs; and Unidel: A Foundation for University Enrichment. She is currently writing a pamphlet about du Pont family gifts to the University of Delaware, marking the 200th anniversary in the year 2000 of the family's emigration from France to America.

Hoffecker serves UD in other ways as well. She is on the board of the University of Delaware Press, where she is working to encourage authors to submit manuscripts dealing with Delaware and regional topics.

She also chairs the Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on General Education. "The goal of our committee is to enhance the academic experience and general education of undergraduates, particularly during the freshman year. Our faculty have developed excellent majors, and students have been enthusiastic about their major programs. But, we want them to be just as interested in their general courses and insure that these courses are part of a focused, comprehensive education.

The committee plans to make its recommendations to the Faculty Senate during the upcoming academic year," Hoffecker said.

Off campus, she edits the Delaware History Magazine, a publication of the Historical Society of Delaware.

How does Hoffecker feel about her alma mater where she has spent much of her academic career?

"We have been fortunate at the University of Delaware with the quality of leadership and the support of the state and private donors, which have created an outstanding middle-sized university. The public is realizing that the school is not ordinary but extraordinary, with an emphasis on quality that is visible on campus and in its educational programs," Hoffecker said.

-Sue Swyers Moncure