Professor of History and Asian Studies; Director of the Carolina Asia Center (Joint appointment with Asian Studies)
GEC 3105
919-843-0130
mpitelka@unc.edu

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.

Some Notable Publications

  • Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai Sociability. Honolulu, 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 Reinvention. Co-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.

Graduate Students

  • Daniele Lauro (co-advised with W. Miles Fletcher)

Courses Taught (as schedule allows)

For current information about course offerings, click here.

  • 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