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.

Vitalis received his Ph.D. in political science from MIT in 1989. His graduate work included a three-year residence in Cairo where he studied Arabic and researched the political strategies of Egyptian business firms. His first book, When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt, was published in 1995.  The Organization of American Historians awarded him the Bernath Prize in 1996 for his work on Egypt's political economy.

He has 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.

Recent honors include fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center (2009), the Rockefeller Foundation (2003), the International Center for Advanced Study, NYU (2002), and the American Council of Learned Societies (2002). He was a MacArthur Award nominee in 1998.

His new book project, White World Order, Black Power Politics: the Birth of American International Relations (Cornell University Press, 2015), moves away from the Middle East to explore the unwritten history of disciplinary international relations and to recover the African-American internationalist tradition. The African American Intellectual History Society interviewed Vitalis about the book here. Foreign Affairs reviewed the book in the March/April 2016 issue. Read the review here

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


"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)