Gary B. Nash, 88, Died; Drew Ire For Trying To Update History


Before he rose to fame as Mr. Limbaugh’s bete noire, Dr. Nash was seen as one of the leading figures in so-called New Left history, who rejected the discipline’s focus on traditional elites in favor of the common people as the bearers of history.

For example, his book “Red, White and Black: The Peoples of Early America” ​​(1974) looked at the colonial era through the eyes of Native Americans, working-class whites, and free and enslaved Blacks.

Despite spending the rest of his life in Los Angeles, Dr. Nash was fond of Philadelphia and often used his hometown to demonstrate his man-in-the-night approach. In “The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution” (1979), a Pulitzer Prize finalist, he looked at how political ideas shifted among Philadelphia’s sailors, dockers, and other working-class people. He played a very important role in the independence movement – as in Boston and New York.

“The focus of what people do has shifted from the standard study of ideology and ideas to the actions of ordinary people on the ground,” Mary Beth Norton, a historian at Cornell University, said in an interview.

Dr. Nash saw a continuum between his approach to history and his relationship to contemporary education and grassroots politics. After the Watts riots of 1965, he joined an organization that supported Black entrepreneurs. He worked to desegregate the Pacific Palisades, the affluent area of ​​Los Angeles where he lived. And after the university’s Board of Trustees fired Black activist Angela Davis from her job as a sociology professor, Dr. Nash led a faculty committee to rehire him.

While his critics often describe him as anti-American—or worse—Dr. Nash insisted he was optimistic about the country.

“If you were a hard-left historian of the United States, you wouldn’t be writing about what he did. “He was always optimistic about the United States,” he said. “He thought the true story was about ordinary people trying to make the country better.”


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