Joan Hoff: Back to Montana

Historians in the News

Carol Schmidt, writing in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (Dec. 24, 2003):

Joan Hoff has a great sense of history. That's why the accomplished writer, noted historian and former president and CEO for the Center for the Study of the Presidency is often called upon to serve as a commentator for such national programs as "The NewsHour." hosted by Jim Lehrer on PBS.

She also has a great sense of personal history. And that's why she's back in Montana, close to family and memories of the Butte childhood that helped forge her view of the world.

"Growing up in Butte instilled a great sense of history in me because there was so much history there," Hoff said. "Coming from Butte also taught me about religious and ethnic diversity."

Hoff is the daughter of a former miner who left the mines during the 1930s strikes and worked as a self-employed mechanic for the rest of his life. She is the granddaughter of two immigrant men, both of whom died and left their wives to raise large families under difficult circumstances. And she went to school with people such as MSU football great Sonny Holland and daredevil Evel Knievel.

She said growing up in Butte helped her develop a strong spine.

"They were hard lessons sometimes," she said. "The (lessons) probably helped make me who I am today."

And today, she is a steely, world-class historian and writer who lives in Big Sky and works as a research professor in the history and philosophy department at Montana State University. She also keeps an apartment in New York City, and travels frequently.

"I call it the Big Sky and Big Apple connection," Hoff said. "Having a place in both worlds is ideal."

She attended Butte schools and the University of Montana, where she received a Fulbright fellowship to study Eastern European history. She received her graduate degree in European and Slavic history from Cornell University and her doctorate in the history of U.S. foreign policy from the University of California at Berkeley. Her first book," American Business and Foreign Policy" (1971), won the national Bernath Prize.

Over the years, she has taught at numerous universities, including Arizona State, Dartmouth, Ohio and Indiana. She is an expert in several fields, including 20th century foreign policy and politics, women's studies and women's history. She wrote a biography of Herbert Hoover in 1975 and a book about Richard Nixon in 1994.

She also received a National Endowment of the Humanities grant that allowed her to research the impact the American Revolution had on women's status. And her book "Law Gender, and Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women" (1991) incorporated 10 years of legal research on women's issues.

"Professor Hoff has an international reputation as a historian of the American presidency and as a leading authority on U.S. foreign policy," said Robert Rydell, the head of Hoff's department. "Her forthcoming book on the history of American foreign policy will generate a much needed debate about the future of U.S. foreign relations."

At this point, Hoff's scholastic interests include the historical turning point that was caused by the terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. She's also writing a book, "Did the United States Sell Its Soul to Win the Cold War?" And when she appears on "The NewsHour," she does it from the KUSM studio at MSU.

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