Tyler Priest is an associate professor of history and geography at the University of Iowa. A widely published scholar of energy and environmental history, he is the author of The Offshore Imperative: Shell Oil's Search for Petroleum in the Postwar United States (2007), which won the Geosciences in the Media Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He also won the American Society for Environmental History's Alice Hamilton Award for his article, "Extraction Not Creation: The History of Offshore Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico," in Enterprise & Society (June 2007). He coedited "Oil in America," a special issue of the Journal of American History (June 2012). From 2000 to 2015, Priest was the chief historian on three interdisciplinary research projects sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management). These projects documented the growth and expansion of the offshore oil industry along the Gulf Coast and collected 740 audio and transcribed oral histories with people who worked in all aspects of the industry. Priest's expertise on the history of offshore oil has led to government and industry advisory positions and a role as a regular commentator for print, radio, online, and television media. In 2010 he also served as a senior policy analyst on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
The lecture surveys and critiques the burgeoning literature on "petro-criticism" and "energy humanities." It argues that much of the writing in this genre reads into the history of oil the story of future catastrophe. Apocalyptic projections of what the future of oil holds distort our effort to understand the oil history. The lecture takes issue with essentialist narratives that are often rife with factual errors, evidentiary problems, and a lack of empathy for historical actors. Historians still have a lot of work to do in explaining the role of labor, technology, culture, and politics in the development of the oil industry in the United States.