History | Creation of the American Oil Empire
A300 | 4466 | Parker
Oil and the struggle to secure it since the end of the nineteenth
century provide a compelling narrative for the study of American
history. Oil has transformed the world’s economy, altered the
course of wars, and continues to shape the way we live today. The
drive to secure oil is a story of national and individual power and
wealth that extends from the oil fields of Texas to the deserts of
Iraq and the wilderness of Alaska.
This course will explore the influence of oil on American history.
We will begin with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in the late
nineteenth century and end with America’s second Gulf War in the
beginning of the twenty-first century. Special attention will be
paid to the creation of the oil industry, oil’s connection to
American identity, and the ongoing struggle in the Middle East
between oil interests and American support for Israel. The class
places strong emphasis on the rise of capitalism and big business,
the increasing significance of oil to the projection of American
power and the protection of American national security, the
emergence of a petroleum based society and culture, and the
environmental impact of these developments. In examining these
themes, the class will highlight the major events and personalities
involved in America’s Imperial rise from the late nineteenth century
to the early twenty-first century.
The objective of the class is to go beyond merely introducing the
role oil has played in the development of the American empire. The
course is intended to compel you to think analytically about the
connections between the politics and diplomacy of oil and the
development of the world we live in today. To this end, you will be
asked to complete a short research paper where you will be asked to
draw these connections yourself consistent with the themes of the
Readings for class discussions will include first hand accounts of
the quest to secure oil by industry giants such as John D.
Rockefeller and critical accounts of the American oil industry by
muckraker journalists like Ida M. Tarbell. Historical treatments of
American foreign oil policy, independent oil speculators, and the
development of an oil consumption society and culture, along with
congressional hearings and contemporary debates about oil
consumption will round out the reading assignments in order to allow
for a wide range of classroom activities and discussions.