About the author:

Morgan Pitelka

Director, Carolina Asia Center
Professor, Department of Asian Studies
Affiliated, History Department

Office: GEC 3105
Phone: 919.843.0130
E-mail: mpitelka@unc.edu


My research focuses on the history and material culture of the long sixteenth century (or what is often called the shift from medieval to early modern) in Japan. I am particularly interested in the history of the samurai, the history of tea culture, the history of ceramics, and the methodology of material culture studies.

My first research project focused on the Raku ceramic tradition, which originated in the 1570s, thrived in the context of early modern tea culture, and continues to be widely practiced in Japan and around the world today. This project involved examination of ceramics in American and Japanese museums and private collections as well as study of documentary evidence including letters, tea diaries, gazetteers, early modern books, manuscripts, and collection registers. One goal was to illuminate how tradition is constructed, perpetuated, and packaged over time, and how sixteenth-century practices and products continue to inform debates about national identity in Japan today.

My second research project focused on the role of material culture—particularly swords, Chinese art, and falcons—in the life and career of the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and a useful case study of the long sixteenth century.

My third research project examines politics and daily life in the medieval castle town of Ichijôdani (near present-day Fukui), capital of the Asakura house of warlords, using archaeological remains and documentary evidence. This town was destroyed in 1573 by Oda Nobunaga, first of the so-called “Three Unifiers” of the sixteenth century. My project examines the tension between the top-down, political world view articulated in Asakura official documents, and the more textured markers of daily life—and its sudden loss—that emerge from the Ichijôdani excavations.


2016, Institute for Arts and Humanities, UNC, Faculty Fellowship
2014-2018, P.I. on a grant from the Department of Education to establish UNC’s first National Research Center for the Study of Asia
2011-2013, P.I. on a grant from the Japan Foundation to establish the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies
2011-2012, National Humanities Center Fellowship
2007-2008, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship
2001, Sainsbury Postdoctoral Fellowship, SOAS, University of London
1998-99, Fulbright-IIE Grant
1998, Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellowship, Freer and Sackler Galleries
1994-95, Watson Fellowship

Courses that I teach

ASIA 63: First-Year Seminar: Japanese Tea Culture
JAPN 231: Ancient and Medieval Japanese History and Culture
JAPN 246: Early Modern Japanese History and Culture
JAPN 363: Samurai, Monks, and Pirates: History and Historiography of Japan’s Long Sixteenth Century
JAPN 451: Swords, Tea Bowls, and Woodblock Prints: Exploring Japanese Material Culture
HIST 890: Material Culture and Material histories

Selected Publications


Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai SociabilityHonolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016.

Kyoto Visual Culture in the Early Edo and Meiji Periods: The Arts of Reinvention, co-edited with Alice Tseng. New York: Routledge, 2016.

What’s the Use of Art? Asian Visual and Material Culture in Context. Co-editor with Jan Mrazek. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007.

Handmade Culture: Raku Potters, Patrons, and Tea Practitioners in Japan. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005.

Japanese Tea Culture: Art, History, and Practice. Editor. London and New York: Routledge, 2003; paperback edition, 2007.



“Warriors, Tea, and Art in Premodern Japan.” Samurai: Beyond the Sword. Special Issue of DIA Bulletin. Ed. Birgitta Augustin. Detroit Institute of Arts, 2014. 

“The Tokugawa Storehouse: Ieyasu’s Encounters with Things.” Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800. Ed. Paula Findlen. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.

“Art, Agency, and Networks in the Career of Tokugawa Ieyasu.” Blackwell Companion to Asian Art. Ed. Deborah Hutton and Rebecca Brown. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

The Empire of Things: Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Material Legacy and Cultural Profile.” Japanese Studies 29:1 (May, 2009).

“A Raku Wastewater Container and the Problem of Monolithic Sincerity.” Impressions 30 (2008). In Japanese translation: “Raku no kensui to ichimaiwateki seijitsusei no mondaiten.” Bijutsu Forum 21 (2010).

The Early Modern Warrior.” Early Modern Japan 16 (2008).