OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Joan Hoff

Portrait of Joan Hoff

Joan Hoff is currently a research professor of history at Montana State University. She is a former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, a former executive director of the OAH, and a former director of the Contemporary History Institute at Ohio University. An occasional media commentator on the presidency, she is the author of A Faustian Foreign Policy from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush (2007), The Cooper's Wife is Missing: The Trials of Bridget Cleary (2000), Nixon Reconsidered (1994), Law, Gender, and Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women (2nd edition, 1994), and Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive (reissued, 1992), among other works.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

The United States was has been at war off on and on for most of the 20th century and now in the second decade of the 21st century the country has engaged in two lengthy wars in the Middle East neither of which is completely over. There is little dispute that the most important decision any president makes is to go to war and the ability of modern presidents to wage war or order military interventions is easier than ever before. The modern presidency (which means the presidency since Franklin Delano Roosevelt) has seen a tremendous increase in what I call the “semi-constitutional powers” of presidents at the expense of both the congressional and judicial branches of government when it comes to conducting foreign policy. In fact, it can be argued that the extraordinary powers of the modern presidency are primarily the creation of war.
Back in September, 2014, Gloria Steinem and Michael Kimmel wrote a NYT oped saying that “‘Yes Is Better than ‘No’” when it comes to countering sexual assault on college campuses. This “yes means yes” law is now being touted as the best way to prevent campus rapes. In this talk I question whether this is true, especially since on October 15, 2016, a group of Harvard law professors claimed that the University’s new active sexual consent procedures to be enforced by campus tribunals were slanted in favor of alleged victims and therefore could violate the civil rights of male students. At the same, time rape cases at Columbia and Stanford did not honor the civil rights of female rape victims. Most schools have yet to question civil rights fairness when they enforce their compulsory affirmative consent policies based on “yes means yes.” City or county or state police should be immediately contacted in rape cases so that at least those could be dealt with in courts of law, as inadequate as that legal system has proven in Florida and Montana when football quarterbacks are charged with rape. Civil rights are the prerogative of the courts, not quasi-juridical campus tribunals.
Rankin’s rhetorical abilities and her visible hard work on behalf of peace in the 1920s and 1930s and later against the Vietnam war have been much praised and written about. But the fact remains those activities came to naught. This is her invisible legacy that we seldom discuss, but we should because it is also our legacy. If we look at what the American peace movement has accomplished since her death in 1973 it is obvious that pacifism--at least the kind that Rankin lobbied for, voted for, and marched for--has not succeeded in the United States.Rankin’s visible legacy should not be forgotten, but it should always be remembered along with her invisible one.