Robert Konkel

Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale University

I’m a global historian specializing in political economy and geopolitics from the late-nineteenth century to present.

My dissertation, Building Blocs: Raw Materials and the Global Economy in the Age of Disequilibrium, charts a global history of the interwar period by putting rivalries over strategic raw materials—especially metallic minerals—at the center of a story about trade, finance, and geopolitics. Modern industry required steady supplies of tungsten, manganese, and chrome for steel and military production, but none of the industrial powers possessed domestic deposits. Resisting internationalist calls for cooperation, states carved out spheres of influence and consolidated hostile trading blocs as means by which to acquire these resources.

Drawing on the archives of states, corporations, banks, and international organizations, Building Blocs demonstrates how entangled business and state interests pushed alternative solutions to multilateralism and resource interdependence. By considering the global rivalries and anxieties over these geographically fixed, industrially essential minerals, I uncover the mechanisms by which hostile spheres of influence and regional trading blocs coalesced, and how policymakers learned from these experiences when planning the post-1945 peace. I offer novel interpretations about the changing physical form and structure of geopolitical entities and what we now call global governance.

At Princeton, I’ve been an assistant instructor for 20th-century US history courses (Professors Kevin Kruse, Julian Zelizer), and for Jeremy Adelman at the Global History Lab. I also co-taught a massive open online course on the global history of capitalism since 1919. I’ve also been a Fellow at the Princeton Writing Center since 2016, and a Head Fellow since 2017.

My PhD work has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC), and during the 2019-20 academic year I was a Center for International Security Studies Fellow. Presently, I am a Graduate Fellow at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS).

I have a BA in history from the University of Saskatchewan and a master’s in economic and social history from Oxford. Before coming to Princeton, I spent several years working for the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation as a research and policy analyst.


“The Monetization of Global Poverty: The Concept of Poverty in World Bank History, 1944-90,” Journal of Global History 9, no. 2 (2014): 276-300.

Dissertation Title:

"Building Blocs: Raw Materials and the Global Economy in the Age of Disequilibrium"

Degree Year
Year of Study
Area of Interest
Business History
Economic History
Foreign Relations
History of Capitalism
Imperial History
International Development
Political History
War & Society
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
20th Century
21st Century