In this podcast Andrew Patrick and Jonathan Conlin discuss the state of play in historical writing about oil. 

What are historians writing about when they write about oil? Although there is a sub-field and even a journal dedicated to “energy history“, otherwise there is surprisingly little consensus. Depending on who you read, it can be business history or “oil diplomacy”, can focus on “energy security” or various nation-states’ adoption of this or that space on a spectrum from the étatisme of “national champion” companies to laissez-faire free-for-all. Environmental concerns (and environmental histories) have challenged the familiar heroic narrative of, say, Daniel Yergin’s The Prize

Recorded on 13 January 2021, in this conversation Andrew and Jonathan survey articles and books written in English (as well as French, Russian and Turkish), reflecting on which texts they found most inspiring for their own work on the politics of Middle East oil in the interwar period. In particular they contrast the “energy security”-centred narratives of top-down, state-driven oil policy published in the era of the “Oil Crisis” with work by A. A. Fursenko, Gregory Nowell and, most recently, Timothy Mitchell. To keep things moving they did not stop to give full details of every work cited, but those interested can find the relevant bibliographical information supplied below. Please note that this bibliography is not intended to be exhaustive. 

Episode 1: Crude History? with Andrew Patrick and Jonathan Conlin

The Historiography of Oil

The Grand Heroic Quest

  • Anthony Sampson, The Seven Sisters (1975)
  • Daniel Yergin, The Prize (1991)-and associated documentary series.

Environmental Histories

  • Brian C. Black, Crude Reality: Petroleum in World History (2012).
  • Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2016).
  • Simon Pirani, Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption (2018)

Corporate Histories

George Sweet Gibb and Evelyn H. Knowlton, History of Standard Oil Company (NewJersey) vol. 2 The Resurgent Years, 1911-27 (1956)-and associated volumes by Hidyand Hidy, etc.

(retirement projects by insiders)

  • F. C. Gerretson, History of the Royal Dutch (4 vols., Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1958).
  • Jean Rondot, La compagnie Française des Pétroles: du Franc-or au Pétrole-France (Paris,1962).
  • Stephen H. Longrigg, “The Origins and Early History of the Iraq Petroleum Company” (privately printed, 1969).


Ronald W. Ferrier, The History of the British Petroleum Company Vol. 1 The developing years, 1901-1932 (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1982).

  • T. A. B. Corley, A History of the Burmah Oil Company, 1886-1924 (London: Heinemann,1983).
  • T. A. B. Corley, A History of the Burmah Oil Company, 1924-1996 (London: Heinemann,1988).
  • James Bamberg, The Anglo-Iranian Years,1928-54v. 2 of The History of the British Petroleum Company (1994).
  • Michel Dumoulin, Petrofina: un groupe pétrolier international et la gestion de l’incertitude vol. 1. 1920-1979 (Louvain: Peeters, 1997).
  • Stephen Howarth, Joost Jonker et al. A History of Royal Dutch Shell (3 vols., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Oil History as Bank History: the French/German contribution

  • Hubert Bonin, La Banque de l’Union parisienne (Paris: Histoire des Outre-Mers, 2011).
  • Hubert Bonin, Les activités financières des banques françaises (Paris: Plage, 2000).
  • Hubert Bonin, Les banques et les entreprises en France dans l’entre-deux guerres ( 2000).
  • Eric Bussière, Paribas, l’Europe et le monde, 1872-1992 (Anvers: Fonds Mercator, 1992).
  • Eric Bussière, “La Banque de l’Union Parisienne (BUP) et l’existence d’un courant national dans les milieux pé troliers français dans l’entre-deux guerres”, Relations Internationales 43 (1985): 305-22.
  • Bertrand Gille, “Capitaux français et pé troles russes,”, Histoire de l’Entreprise 12 (1963).
  • Lubor Jı́lek, “Impasses d’une ‘politique nationale’ d’approvisionnement: capitaux francais dans les pétroles de Galicie, 1918-1926”, Rels. Int. 43 (1985).
  • Philippe Marguerat, L. Jilek, Paribas, le pétrole roumain et la politique française (Neuchâ tel: Université de Neuchâ tel Press, 1987).

In the German context: Hans Pohl, Helmut Mejcher, Fritz Seidenzahl…

Post-WW2 American scholarship

  • John A. DeNovo, “Movement for an Aggressive American Oil Policy Abroad, 1918-1920”, American Historical Review 61 (1956): 854-878.
  • John A. DeNovo, American Interest and Policies in the Middle East, 1900-1939 (1963).
  • Gerald Nash, United States Oil Policy, 1890-1964: Business and Government in Twentieth-Century America (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968).

The Shadow of the “Oil Crisis”? Energy Security narratives

  • André Nouschi, Luttes pétrolières au proche-orient (1970).
  • Marian Kent, Oil and Empire (1976).
  • Geoffrey Jones, The State and the Emergence of the British Oil Industry (1981)
  • Fiona Venn, Oil Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century (1986).
  • Volkan Ediger, Enerji Ekonomi-Politiği Perspektifinden Osmanlı’da Neft ve Petrol (2007).
  • Hikmet Uluğbay, İmparatorluk’tan Cumhuriyet’e Petropolitik (2008).

Oil History for Political Scientists: Colbertisme vs. Laissez-Faire

  • Harvey B. Feigenbaum, “France’s oil policy: the limits of mercantilism”, France in the Troubled World Economy (London: Butterworth Scientific, 1982), 114-131.
  • Harvey B. Feigenbaum, The Politics of Public Enterprise: Oil and the French State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).
  • Jean-Marie Bouguen 2013 (to a lesser extent…)

Oil as Episode in Emergence of MNEs

  • Geoffrey Jones, Merchants to Multinationals (Oxford: OUP, 2000).
  • Geoffrey Jones, Multinationals and Global Capitalism (Oxford, OUP, 2005).
  • Robert Fitzgerald, The Rise of the Global Company: Multinationals and the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge: CUP, 2016).

Voices in the Wilderness? Challenges to energy security-centred history

  • Walter Adams et al,,”Retarding the Development of Iraq’s Oil resources: an Episode in Oleaginous Diplomacy, 1927-39″, Journal of Economic Issues 27.1 (1993).
  • A. Fursenko “Pervyi nefianoi exportnyi syndikat v Rossii” in Monopolii i inostrannyu kapital v. Rossii (1962).
  • Edward Peter Fitzgerald, “The Power of the Weak and the Weakness of the Strong: Explaining Corporate Behavior in Middle Eastern Oil,” Bus. & Ec. Hist. Rev 23 (1994).
  • Alison Fleig Frank, Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia (Cambridge: HUP, 2007).
  • Fursenko, The Battle for Oil: The Economics and Politics of International Corporate Conflict over Petroleum trans. Gregory L Freece (Greenwich: Jai Press, 1990).
  • George Philip, The Political Economy of International Oil (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1994).
  • William Stivers, Supremacy and Oil: Iraq, Turkey and the Anglo-American World Order, 1918-1930 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982).

(and particularly noteworthy:)

  • Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (London: Verso).
  • Gregory P. Nowell, Mercantile States and the World Oil Cartel, 1900-1939 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994).

Cultural History of Oil

  • Dochuk, Anointed By Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America (2019).

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