Publication Date

February 28, 2022

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam


  • United States



Linda Nash

Photo courtesy of the Department of History, University of Washington

Linda Nash died on October 17, 2021, in Seattle, Washington, from lymphoma. A noted scholar of US environmental history at the University of Washington, Linda is mourned by a wide network of family, friends, and colleagues. She is survived by her partner of 35 years, Jim Hanford; her children, Helen Nash and Peter Hanford; and extended family in California.

Linda made a profound contribution with her book, Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge (Univ. of California Press, 2006), winner of the AHA’s John H. Dunning Prize, the AHA–Pacific Coast Branch Book Award, and the Western Association of Women Historians’ Frances Richardson Keller-Sierra Prize. Her insightful reading revealed the changed public awareness of the interconnections among health, human activities, and environmental conditions in the history of California’s Central Valley. It laid bare the contradictions between policies that maximized wellness in narrow economic and medicalized modes, even as many residents of the Central Valley saw their physical health and environmental conditions deteriorate as agriculture industrialized.

Linda’s appreciation and skepticism of developmentalism were honed by her cross-training and lived experience with environmental policy. She double majored in civil engineering and history at Stanford University, completing a BS and a BA with distinction in 1984. She later earned an MS from the University of California, Berkeley. Linda worked at an EPA Superfund site and evaluated the impact of dredging for the California State Water Resources Control Board. Later, at the Pacific Institute, her work focused on climate change. Her interest in the past remained. Jim, who she met through an internship during this time, recalled that she continued to slip into history classes at UC Berkeley whenever she could.

She decided to pursue a PhD in history at the University of Washington in 1993 under the supervision of Richard White. Her extraordinary capabilities immediately impressed faculty and fellow graduate students. Her classmate Matthew Klingle (Bowdoin Coll.) remembers: “I was in awe of her ability to see farther and more clearly than anyone else in our group of aspiring professional historians. Her blend of wit, humor, and a dash of well-intentioned sarcasm always enlivened classroom discussions. She carried those same traits into her work as an accomplished scholar, always willing to make a suggestion, support a colleague, or provide a needed laugh that never came at someone else’s expense.”

Linda’s plainspokenness and intellectually rigorous approach characterized both her teaching and her research. Her work on the transformative impacts of the Cold War and global capitalism revealed how the environmental costs of big science and basic research affected people’s lives. Through important essays and articles, she examined how emerging postwar models of risk assessment often compromised on basic public health and caused environmental damage. She boldly questioned the premise of this contrived logic in both her scholarship and her teaching, demonstrating how the desire for economic growth drove investment in infrastructure and development while simultaneously compromising people’s actual health and that of the environmental systems on which they depended. In the classroom, the clarity and accessibility of her teaching drew students—she rarely sugarcoated harsher realities.

At the time of her death, Linda was completing work on a book manuscript, “The Materials of Empire: American Engineers in the West and Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley,” that examines the postcolonial linkages between large-scale engineering projects in Washington’s Columbia Basin and Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley.

Linda’s steadfast commitment to environmental ethics, social justice, and meticulous scholarship won her a devoted following among students. Her memory is cherished by the many colleagues whom she drew into her projects, connecting them with local networks of scholars through the Cascadia Environmental History Collaborative and the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest. Her colleagues, family, and friends will remember long hikes with Linda and open-air workshops where her lively commentary and banter drew them into new ways of understanding the world around them. Linda leaves behind a considerable legacy.

Purnima Dhavan
University of Washington, Seattle

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