Vitalis, Robert 1955-

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Vitalis, Robert 1955-


Born 1955. Education: State University of New York at Stony Brook, B.A., 1978; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, S.M. 1984, Ph.D., 1989.


Office—Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, 208 S. 37th St., Rm. 217, Philadelphia, PA 19104. E-mail[email protected].


University of Texas at Austin, instructor, 1987-88, assistant professor of government, 1988-91; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, visiting assistant professor of politics, 1990-91, fall, 1992; Clark University, Worcester, MA, assistant professor, 1991-96, associate professor of government, 1996-99; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, associate professor of political science, 1999—, and director of Middle East Center.


Fulbright fellowship, Semester Abroad in Egypt, 1975-76; Undergraduate Fellowship, U.S. Department of Health, Eduation and Welfare, 1973-77; graduate fellowship, American University in Cairo, 1980-82; dissertation fellowship, American Research Center in Egypt/USIA, 1984-85; research fellowship, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 1985-86; Carroll Wilson Award, MIT, 1986-87; University of Texas at Austin, Policy Research Institute, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, research award, 1989; summer research award, University Research institute, University of Texas, 1989; Social Science Research Council postdoctoral research fellowship, 1991; faculty development award, Clark University, 1991, 1995, and 1996; Shelby Cullom Davis Center, Princeton University, post-doctoral fellowship, 1995-96; Logan fellowship for excellence in teaching, Clark University, 1995-96 (declined); Rockefeller Foundation grant, 1996 (declined); Joseph A. Malone fellowship, National Council on U.S.-Arab Affairs, 1996; Dorothy and Sherman Hayden Junior Faculty fellowship, Clark University, 1997; Bernath Prize for best article in diplomatic history, Organization of American Historians, 1997; Higgins School of the Humanities Faculty fellowship, Clark University, 1997; visiting fellow, Program in Afro-American Studies, Princeton University, 1998; MacArthur-SSRC International Peace and Security Program fellowship, 1998; American Political Science Association Centennial Research Award, 1998; fellow, Penn Humanities Forum, University of Pennsylvania, 2000; University Research Foundation grant, University of Pennsylvania, 2001; Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars fellowship, 2002-03 (declined); International Center for Advanced Study, New York University fellowship, 2002-03; ACLS/SSRC/NEH International and Area Studies fellowship, 2002-03.


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

(Editor, with Madawi Al-Rasheed) Counter-narratives: History, Contemporary Society, and Politics in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2003.

America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 2007.

Contributor to numerous anthologies. Contributor of scholarly articles to various journals, including Arab Studies Journal, Middle East Report, International Journal of Middle East Studies, and Business History Review.


Robert Vitalis serves as an associate professor in the political science department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also heads up the Middle East Center. His primary areas of research interest include the state and market formation of Saudi Arabia, political and cultural economy of the world oil industry, American expansionism, the history of international relations and development studies, race as it pertains to American international relations theory, and the Egyptian political economy. His first book, When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt, addresses the political economy of Egypt between 1922 and 1952, referred to as the Liberal Era, which follows the nation's independence. During this time, the economy was such that outside influences lessened and the local bureaucracy relied more heavily on internal rents for a source of revenue. As political influence became a more vital part of the economic structure of the nation, two distinct political factions came to power, and they held primary control over all trade and manufacturing within the country. Malcolm B. Russell, in a review for the Historian, noted of Vitalis's book: "Too often, area specialists either ignore theoretical perspectives or impose an external paradigm on their findings. By contrast, Vitalis does more than portray Egyptian capitalists in terms of their actual experiences rather than a stylized model. He uses their history to challenge widespread leftist and nationalist concepts of political economy in the developing countries." Christopher Clay, in a review in Business History, praised the book overall, but noted that it was more likely to attract the attention of experts over laymen, calling it "a sad instance of a lost opportunity … to communicate its subject matter to a wider readership than the narrow circle of political science specialists who will probably be the only people willing to make the effort required to read it."

In America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier, Vitalis turns his attention to Saudi Arabia and the relationship between that nation's oil magnates and the United States. He focuses on the Arabian American Oil Company, its history, and its role in delivering oil to the United States since its founding in 1944. Ian Garrick Mason, in a review for the San Francisco Chronicle, dubbed the book "a fascinating exercise in what Vitalis refers to as ‘reverse-engineering’ the power of such myths and the process of their construction, a process driven by corporation magazines, popular histories and even the reporting of major newspapers." Library Journal contributor John Russell opined that "Vitalis has crafted a narrative that fits in well with the recent trend of giving U.S. history international context." David E. Long, writing for the Middle East Journal, praised "the sheer volume of documented details the author provides, his engaging style of writing and candor in explaining the motivation for writing the book, and how the book is organized," but concluded that "it becomes clear that the author is demythologizing a straw man."



American Historical Review, December 1, 1996, Diane B. Kunz, review of When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt, p. 1589.

Business History, January 1, 1997, Christopher Clay, review of When Capitalists Collide, p. 131.

Choice, November 1, 1995, P. Clawson, review of When Capitalists Collide, p. 526; May 1, 2007, V.T. Le Vine, review of America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier, p. 1759.

Economic Development & Cultural Change, July 1, 1997, Robert L. Tignor, review of When Capitalists Collide, p. 927.

Historian, January 1, 1998, Macolm B. Russell, review of When Capitalist Collide, p. 447.

International Journal of Middle East Studies, May 1, 1996, Joel Beinin, review of When Capitalists Collide, p. 272.

Journal of Economic History, June 1, 1996, Roger Owen, review of When Capitalists Collide, p. 517.

Journal of Economic Literature, December 1, 1995, review of When Capitalists Collide, p. 2110.

Library Journal, September 1, 2006, John Russell, review of America's Kingdom, p. 165.

Middle East Journal, spring, 2007, David E. Long, review of America's Kingdom.

Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2007, review of America's Kingdom.


San Francisco Chronicle Online, (December 31, 2006), Ian Garrick Mason, review of America's Kingdom.

Stanford University Press Web site, (July 15, 2007), author biography.

University of Pennsylvania, Political Science Department Web site, (July 15, 2007), author biography.