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Paulson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in 1952, where he was an editorial associate of campus humor magazine The Yale Record. He earned his doctorate degree from Yale in 1958.
Paulson has taught and held various administrative positions at several universities in the United States, including the University of Illinois from 1959 to 1963 and Rice University from 1963 to 1967. He was the Chairman of the Johns Hopkins University English Department from 1967 to 1975. From 1975 to 1984 he was a professor at Yale University and served as the Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department from 1976 to 1983 and the Director of the British Studies Program from 1976 to 1984.
Paulson returned to Johns Hopkins University in 1984, serving as the Department Chairman from 1985 to 1991.
He has been a member of the editorial board of the academic journal ELH: English Literary History and was senior editor from 1985 to 2004; he served on the editorial boards of the journals Studies in English Literature; PMLA; Eighteenth-Century Studies; and the Johns Hopkins University Press.
Honors and recognitions
Paulson was the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University from 1973 to 1975 and has been the Mayer Professor of Humanities since 1985. He was a member of the Academic and Advisory Committees and Governing Board of the Yale Center for British Art and the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art in London from 1975 to 1984. He has also been a Guggenheim Fellow (1965–66, 1986–87), an NEH Senior Fellow (1977–78), and a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation (1978, 1987).
- Theme and Structure in Swift's 'Tale of a Tub' (1960)
- Hogarth's Graphic Works (1965)
- The Fictions of Satire (1967)
- Satire and the Novel in Eighteenth-Century England (1967)
- Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times (1971)
- Rowlandson: A New Interpretation (1972)
- Emblem and Expression: Meaning in English Art of the Eighteenth Century (1975)
- The Art of Hogarth (1975)
- Popular and Polite Art in the Age of Hogarth and Fielding (1979)
- Literary Landscape: Turner and Constable (1982)
- Representations of Revolution (1789–1820) (1983)
- Book and Painting: Shakespeare, Milton, and the Bible (1983)
- Breaking and Remaking: Aesthetic Practice in England, 1700–1820 (1989)
- Hogarth's Graphic Works (rewritten and reset) (1989)
- Figure & Abstraction in Contemporary Painting (1990)
- Hogarth, Vols. 1–3 (1991–93)
- The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange: Aesthetics and Heterodoxy (1997)
- The Analysis of Beauty (editor) (1997)
- Don Quixote in England: The Aesthetics of Laughter (1998)
- The Life of Henry Fielding (2000)
- Hogarth's Harlot: Sacred Parody in Enlightenment England (2003)
- Sin and Evil: Moral Values in Literature (2006)
- The Art of Riot in England and America (2010)
- Edwards, Thomas R. (January 2, 1972). "Hogarth; His Life, Art and Times. By Ronald Paulson. Illustrated. Vol. I, 558 pp. Vol. II, 557 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press. Hogarth". New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- The Yale Record. New Haven: Yale Record. February, 1951. p. 3.
- "Ronald Paulson – English Department – Johns Hopkins University". english.jhu.edu. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- New York Times Service (February 16, 1988), "Laugh Exchange: Humorists take humor to Soviet Union", Milwaukee Journal, p. G1, retrieved January 18, 2011
- Broyard, Anatole (June 2, 1983). "Books of the Times". The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- Dorment, Richard (May 27, 1993). "The Genius of Gin Lane". The New York Review of Books. The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- Furbank, P.N. (December 18, 1997). "The Pleasures of Reading Hogarth". The New York Review of Books. The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- Gorfkle, Laura J. (1999). "Review of Ronald Paulson's Don Quixote in England: The Aesthetics of Laughter". Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America. he Cervantes Society of America. 19 (1): 145–149. Retrieved January 18, 2011.