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 Guardian.
Recent honors include fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation (2003), the Woodrow Wilson International Center (2002), the International Center for Advanced Study, NYU (2002), and the American Council of Learned Societies (2002). He was a MacArthur Award nominee in 1998.
White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2017).