Morgan Pitelka

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Professor, Department of Asian Studies and Department of History; Director, Carolina Asia Center

GEC 3105
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599


Research Interests

My research focuses on the history and material culture of the long sixteenth century (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 daily life in late medieval castle towns such as 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, as well as similar sites such as Bungo Funai, Azuchi, and Odawara.


2017, Faculty Fellowship, Institute for the Arts and Humanities, UNC-CH
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


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

Graduate Students

Laurel Foote-Hudson, Ph.D. candidate, Department of English & Comparative Literature, committee member
Magdalena Kolodziej, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Art, Art History, & Visual Studies, Duke University, committee member
Daniele Lauro, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, primary advisor


Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai SociabilityHonolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016. Winner, 2016 Book Prize, Southeastern Conference of the Association of Asian Studies.

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

What’s the Use of Art? Asian Visual and Material Culture in Context. Co-edited 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.

Selected Essays

“Form and Function: Tea Bowls and the Problem of Zen in Chanoyu,” in Pamela D. Winfield and Steven Heine, ed., Zen and Material Culture. Oxford University Press, 2017.

“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 (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).

“Introduction to the Early Modern Warrior Experience.” Early Modern Japan 16 (2008).

Works in Progress


Castle Towns and Urban Life in Japan’s Age of Warring States, a study of material culture and daily life in late medieval urban sites, focusing on archaeological evidence that allows us to read the rhythms of daily life, and documentary evidence of the acts of extreme violence that brought these rhythms to an abrupt end.

Letters from Japan’s Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, with Reiko Tanimura, a study and translation of 23 original letters by warriors, tea masters, Zen priests, courtiers, an empress, and other residents of late medieval and early modern Japan.

Japanese Art: Critical and Primary Sources, 3 volumes (Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming).


“Chinese Ceramics and Warrior Sociability in Sixteenth-Century Japan,” in Dora Ching, Louise Cort, and Andrew Watsky, ed., Chigusa in Context: In and Around Chanoyu in Sixteenth-Century Japan (Princeton University Press, forthcoming)

“Name and Fame: Material Objects as Authority, Security, and Legacy” in Mary Elizabeth Berry and Marcia Yonemoto, ed., Families and Households in Early Modern Japan (forthcoming)

“The Return of Seduction: A Review Essay” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, forthcoming

“The Life and Afterlife of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616)” in Gary Leupp, ed., The Tokugawa World (Routledge, forthcoming)

“From Hideyoshi to Iemitsu: The end of civil war and the formation of the early modern state (1580–1650)” in David Howell, ed., Early Modern Japan, vol. 2 of Cambridge History of Japan (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming) “

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