Few U.S. presidents are as noted for their activities after they leave the White House as they are for their presidencies. Steve Hochman, associate director of programs at The Carter Center, is an expert on two such presidents: Jimmy Carter and Thomas Jefferson.
During his early college career at the University of Missouri, Hochman developed a strong interest in the American Revolutionary period and even decided to change his major from journalism to history. When the time came to apply for graduate school, Hochman applied to the University of Virginia, which was founded by Jefferson and has an almost palpable Jefferson presence, he said.
"I took a course on Jefferson the first year," Hochman said. "I was certainly not a Jeffersonian when I arrived there, but you are turned into one living at his university with Monticello up on the mountain."
Chronicling President Jefferson
His second year at Virginia, Hochman embarked on an extended Jeffersonian voyage when he began working with the late Dumas Malone, a 1910 graduate of Emory College, on the fourth, fifth and sixth volumes of Malone's highly acclaimed biographical series on Jefferson, whose birthday is April 13. Malone, who served as Jefferson biographer-in-residence at the University of Virginia following his retirement from the history faculty, hired Hochman as a graduate assistant after receiving a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to work on the Jefferson volumes. That was in 1968; Hochman's work with Malone would extend to the summer of 1981, when the sixth and final volume, Jefferson: The Sage of Monticello, was released.
Hochman's initial work consisted of helping Malone prepare the fourth Jefferson volume for press. That book dealt with Jefferson's first term as president, from 1801-1805. The two soon began working on volume five, which chronicled Jefferson's second term.
"Actually, most of my time working with Professor Malone was spent on the sixth volume, which is about the 17-year period after the presidency up to Jefferson's death in 1826," Hochman said. "Professor Malone's eyesight deteriorated dramatically during this period, so I began working full-time at that point." Malone and Hochman conferred on what materials should be researched, then Hochman would record the material on audio tape for Malone to digest.
The Carter years
When work on the final Jefferson volume was completed in early 1981, Hochman planned to begin working in earnest on his Ph.D. dissertation, which he had not had time to complete because of his long and extensive work with Malone. Hochman was preparing to begin the work at the University of Virginia using Malone's unparalleled Jefferson library.
"At about that time, I got a call from a friend at Princeton saying that President Carter was going to write his memoirs and needed someone with historical experience to help put his book together," Hochman recalled. "President Carter had gone to Princeton to confer with experts on the presidency. My friend asked me if I wanted to be recommended for the job. I thought it was an interesting opportunity, so I said sure. I got a call that April asking me to come to Atlanta for an interview."
Carter subsequently hired Hochman, who moved to Plains to begin working on Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President. It was around this time that Carter began to consider forming a partnership with a university in the development of a center or institute. He soon reached an agreement with Emory and asked Hochman to come to the University to organize Carter's academic program at Emory. Hochman also was offered an adjunct appointment in the history department.
Prior to becoming extensively involved with The Carter Center's Atlanta Project in 1991, Hochman taught several undergraduate seminars on Jefferson and finished his dissertation on Jefferson. For the past two years, he has taught a course through the political science department in collaboration with Emory faculty members and Carter Center staff called "Public Policy and Nongovernmental Organizations," using the work of The Carter Center as a prime example.
Last summer Hochman taught an Alumni University course titled "Jefferson and Carter: Presidents After the Presidency." Both men, Hochman pointed out, share a dedication in their post-presidencies to creating institutions that embody their highest ideals. "With Thomas Jefferson, it was the University of Virginia," Hochman said. "With Jimmy Carter, it's The Carter Center. Both Jefferson and Carter have gone well beyond what most anyone would expect of a former president."
Carter shares a strong interest in education with Jefferson as evidenced by The Carter Center's partnership with Emory. "President Carter has been in the classroom as a professor and continues to do that," Hochman said. "But The Carter Center itself is focused on global issues," including democratization, health, economic development and urban issues.
Both Carter and Jefferson came from Southern, agrarian backgrounds, Hochman said, which was much more typical in Jefferson's day. Although Carter travels the globe extensively as part of his Carter Center work, Hochman pointed out that the former president continues to reside in his hometown of Plains.
Perhaps what appeals most to Hochman about Jefferson, and Carter as well, is an avid interest in a variety of topics. "One of the great things about studying Jefferson is that you can be a generalist," Hochman said. "You can get into almost any topic: political history, literary history, scientific history, philosophy, even architecture and music. A wide variety of interests is something I have in common with Jefferson, but I certainly don't claim the same level of ability."