Monday, September 3, 2012

The Passing of Michael Nash

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I just learned, via an obituary in my sister-in-law’s copy of The Villager (available on-line here) of the recent death of Michael Nash (1946-2012) the Director of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University.  Some time ago, I was the beneficiary of his stewardship of an important collection of National Lawyers Guild papers, and just last semester he hosted a meeting of my legal history seminar at NYU Law.  He gave my students a lovely introduction to the joy of research in manuscripts that culminated in giving them twenty minutes to work through a box from the NLG papers and then asking each to tell a story from what they found. One student got the box documenting the split between the NLG’s liberals and radicals, which we had just read about in Jerold Auerbach’s Unequal Justice; another got the records relating to an immigration lawyer who fell afoul a McCarthyite investigating committee in Washington State, which became the subject of his term paper.

The Tamiment has long been a crucial archive on labor and a wide variety of radical social and political organizations, but I did not realize until last year how vigorously and successfully Nash had been pursuing collections relating to lawyers on the left.  To older collections on such Old Left figures as Bernard Ades, Harold I. Cammer (the law partner of Lee Pressman and Nathan Witt), and Abraham Unger, Nash had added the papers of William Kunstler, the firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky and Lieberman, Judith P. Vladeck, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. (Some of these, I'm afraid, are still unaccessioned.)  Nash’s death is thus a significant loss to American legal history as well as the larger community of archivists and historians.