Michael H. Nash (1946-2012)
Mike Nash, the director of New York University’s Tamiment Library, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives and ALBA board member, died unexpectedly on July 24. He was 66. A well known and accomplished archivist and historian, he came to NYU in 2002 from the Hagley Museum and Library, after working at Cornell University and the New York Public Library.
Behind Mike’s disheveled appearance and self-effacing demeanor loomed a wealth of knowledge, energy, and vision. In his 10 years on the 10th floor of the Bobst Library, Mike was instrumental in the acquisition and cataloguing of several major collections. He led processing of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade collection, which was transferred from Brandeis University in 2000, and oversaw the acquisition of the Moscow microfilm of the personnel records of the International Brigades. Under Mike’s directorship, the ALBA collection saw a significant expansion and became the most frequently consulted at the Tamiment Library.
Along with ALBA’s Peter N. Carroll, James D. Fernández, Mel Small, and Sebastiaan Faber, he edited and curated several books and exhibits, including The Good Fight Continues: World War II Letters from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (NYU Press, 2006), and photography shows on Walter Rosenblum and Agustí Centelles. He was author of Conflict and Accommodation: Coal Miners, Steel Workers and Socialism and co-editor of Red Activists and Black Freedom: James and Esther Jackson and the Long Civil Rights Revolution.
Among the many other major collections that Mike brought to Tamiment were the archives of the US Communist Party and the Daily Worker, the National Lawyers’ guild, and the papers of Philip Agee and Howard Zinn. Mike was also founding co-director of the Center for the United States and the Cold War and founding co-director of the Frederic Ewen Center for Academic Freedom.
With ALBA’s Jim Fernández, Mike regularly co-taught an undergraduate seminar on the Spanish Civil War. “He was a remarkably learned teacher and scholar who wore his erudition lightly,” Jim writes, “a generous and gentle archivist always eager to help others; a principled and committed man whose teaching and scholarship and stewardship of Tamiment were of a piece with his lifelong dedication to the promotion, via historical understanding, of human rights and social justice.”
Mike always enjoyed telling the story of how, when appearing before the Vietnam draft board, he was asked if he had ever been a member of a long list of subversive organizations, including the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Like virtually all of the young men whose eligibility for the draft was being judged in the late 1960s, Mike had been born long after the end of the Spanish Civil War. “Are you kidding?” asked Mike. The no-nonsense drafter responded: “No, we don’t kid about anything here.” To which Mike replied, “OK, yeah, put me down for that one. I was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” He wasn’t drafted.
Mike did his undergraduate and doctoral work at the State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton and also earned Master of Arts degrees from Columbia University. The academic community concerned with the history of progressive movements has lost a great friend and colleague. He will be sorely missed.