Although nobody has run a statistical analysis, it’s a safe bet that no UNLV faculty member receives the volume of email and voicemail inquiries as Michael Green, the UNLV Alumni Association's Achievement in Service Award winner. That’s the price Green (happily) pays for being the foremost authority of Nevada history.
Want to know how Abraham Lincoln played an essential role in Nevada earning statehood? Or how Las Vegas, once nothing more than a desolate parcel of mostly uninhabited desert, became a town in 1905? Or how gaming became the Silver State’s primary industry (and the role politics played and continues to play)? Contact Green — for all of it.
After earning a bachelor's (in 1986) and master's (in 1988) in history from UNLV, Green pursued his doctorate from Columbia University. He returned to Las Vegas to complete his dissertation, but soon took a detour, first taking a job as a history professor with the College of Southern Nevada in 1995. He would remain with CSN for nearly two decades — during which time he finished his doctorate in 2000 — until returning to his alma mater in 2014 as an associate professor of history.
Besides teaching UNLV students and honors students about Las Vegas, Nevada, and 19th century American history, Green has authored or co-authored several books on topics ranging from the Civil War to Las Vegas’ first 100 years. He also published a college-level textbook Nevada: A History of the Silver State in 2015.
Away from the classroom and his keyboard, Green is a frequent guest speaker when the subject involves Nevada history. He also serves on the board of directors for The Mob Museum and the Nevada Center for Civic Engagement, and as is the director of both Preserve Nevada and the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association.
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded all of us about the power and importance of being resilient. Share an example from your career that showed your resiliency.
It’s something that, frankly, embarrasses and still haunts me: In 1992, after earning my bachelor’s and master’s from UNLV and completing the Ph.D. requirements at Columbia, I returned to Las Vegas figuring that I would finish my dissertation in a couple of years and get a job — a job I was sure would take me somewhere else. But in 1995, I was blessed to be offered the position at CSN, and I took it. But that, along with some professional commitments and personal matters, kept me from finishing the dissertation until 2000. I was resilient in staying with it, but it took far too long and I still regret that I couldn’t finish sooner.
Who is the single most important figure in Nevada history (and why)?
I’m tempted to say Parry Thomas (with due credit to Jerry Mack, whose name also is on our arena), because his impact was so widespread. He lent money to casino operators when few others would, he made known and anonymous charitable contributions that helped start UNLV, and he helped get Steve Wynn going in the casino business, thus contributing to the modern megaresort era.
But I’m also tempted to say Abraham Lincoln. If not for the Civil War and his desire to be reelected and pass the Thirteenth Amendment, Nevada probably wouldn’t have become a state in 1864. At the time, Las Vegas was part of Arizona territory and remained so until 1867 — for all we know, we might have been UALV. Also, Congress passed our enabling act with some provisions that Nevadans had to accept for statehood. One was to ban slavery. Another was renouncing any claim to federal land — a reminder that one of the issues in the Civil War was federal supremacy. Come to think of it, that’s still an issue. But that’s how Nevada became one of the states with the most public land, which has shaped us to this day.
What advice do you have for today’s UNLV history students as they try to navigate our changed world?
I suspect they have more advice for me. They are far nimbler than I was at their age, thanks in part to technological advances and additional career paths available through public history and other fields that history students of my generation never considered. Back then, we thought your only career choice was to be an educator or maybe a journalist or lawyer — that was about it. Today, that path looks different to newly minted graduates, but I would say that fits with my advice: Be ready and willing to adapt. We know that the world is always changing; that means history is changing, too.