Robert Vitalis




Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics, Room 433

Robert Vitalis joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in July 1999 as associate professor of political science and director of the Middle East Center. He stepped down as Center director in July 2006. Penn promoted him to full professor in July 2008.

He is the author of four books. The first book, When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt, was published in 1995 and reissued by the University of California Press on its 25th anniversary. He continued to develop and expand the scope of his interests in historical comparative analysis in his second book, America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier, which was published in October 2006 by Stanford University Press and named a book of the year in the London Guardian.

He received the International Theory Prize from the Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex for his third book, White World Order, Black Power Politics (Cornell University Press, 2016). In it, he moved away from the Middle East to explore the unwritten history of international relations scholarship in the United States, including those African-American thinkers that challenged the discipline’s racist and imperialist commitments.

Pulitizer Prize-winning author Greg Grandin calls his newest book, Oilcraft: The Myths of Scarcity and Security that Haunt U.S. Energy Policy (Stanford University Press, 2020), “indispensable to understanding the current moment, showing that moving beyond fossil fuels is more akin to quitting a sect than breaking an addiction.”

His current research focuses on the rise of the militant right in strategic studies in the United States.


For more information about Professor Vitalis' beliefs and views on recent events, please listen to his podcast interview.

Office Hours
Office Hours By Appointment
Research Interests

State and Market Formation in Saudi Arabia

The Political and Cultural Economy of the World Oil Industry

American Expansionism

History of International Relations and Development Studies

Race and American International Relations Theory

Courses Taught


  • Race, Development & American Int'l Relations (Graduate Seminar)
  • American Foreign Policy
  • Politics in the Contemporary Middle East 
Selected Publications

Oilcraft: The Myths of Scarcity and Security That Haunt U.S. Energy Policy. (Stanford University Press, 2020). (Listen to the book launch here)

"Oil: The Stuff of Mass Delusions," in Jadaliyya, 2016.  (Read the article here)

White World Order, Black Power Politics: the Birth of American International Relations.  (Cornell University Press, 2015).

“America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier” Stanford University Press, 2006

“International Studies in America.” Social Science Research Council Items and Issues 3 (Summer 2002).
(Read this article)

“War, Keynesianism and Colonialism: Explaining State-Market Relations in the Post-War Middle East,” in War, Institutions, and Social Change in the Middle East, Steven Heydemann, Ed. University of California Press, 2000.
(Read this chapter or buy the book from the publisher)

“American Ambassador in Technicolor and Cinemascope': Hollywood and Revolution on the Nile,” in Walter Armbrust, ed., Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond. University of California Press, 2000.
(Buy the book from the publisher)

“The Graceful and Generous Liberal Gesture: Making Racism Invisible in American International Relations.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 29, 2 (2000), pp. 331-356.
(Read an abstract of the article)

When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt. (University of California Press, 1995).

CV (file)