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.