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Professor and Chair
(919) 843-5561

Professor and Chair, Department of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
Professor, Department of History
Co-Editor, Journal of Japanese Studies


Morgan Pitelka received his B.A. in East Asian Studies with honors from Oberlin College and his Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from Princeton University. Before joining the UNC faculty, he taught at Occidental College (2002-2010). His scholarship focuses on the history of late medieval and early modern Japan, with a focus on the samurai, tea culture, ceramics, cities, and material culture.

He has published six books: Japanese Tea Culture: Art, History, and Practice (2003), Handmade Culture: Raku Potters, Patrons, and Tea Practitioners in Japan (2005), What’s the Use of Art? Asian Visual and Material Culture in Context (2007, with Jan Mrazek), Spectacular Accumulation: Material Culture, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Samurai Sociability (2016; Winner of the 2016 Book Prize from the Southeastern Conference of the Association of Asian Studies), Kyoto Visual Culture in the Early Edo and Meiji Periods: The Arts of Reinvention (2016, with Alice Tseng), and Letters from Japan’s Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (2020, with Reiko Tanimura and Takashi Masuda). He has also published four volumes of Japanese Art: Critical and Primary SourcesMaterial Cultures; Visual Cultures; Printed Matter; and Sites and Patrons, Knowledge and Power (2018). He serves as the coeditor of the Journal of Japanese Studies and has worked on the publication of four issues to date. He has received a range of support for his research, including a Watson Fellowship, funding from the Ford Foundation and the Smithsonian, a Fulbright-IIE Fellowship, a Sainsbury Postdoctoral Fellowship, an NEH Fellowship, a National Humanities Center Fellowship, and a Faculty Fellowship from the Institute for the Arts and Humanities. He serves on the American Advisory Committee of the Japan Foundation and the advisory boards of several nonprofit and educational organizations.

Pitelka is an accomplished fundraiser and program-builder for the university in the field of Asian Studies. From 2011-2013, he served as the founding Director of the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies, a collaboration between Duke University, UNC, and North Carolina State University, funded by a Japan Foundation Institutional Program Support grant ($274,000). Pitelka then worked as Director of the Carolina Asia Center (CAC) from 2013-2019. During this time, he won the first Asia-related Title VI grant for the CAC as a Pan-Asia National Resource Center ($1,898,000), and also won a renewal of the grant in 2018 ($2,000,000). He implemented the Rajkumar Faculty Fellowship program ($300,000 for faculty research and travel as of 2019) and founded the Modern Indian Studies Initiative ($150,000 raised as of 2019). In 2016 he wrote a proposal to the Phillips family which resulted in a legacy gift ($5,000,000) to the Phillips Ambassadors Program in the Carolina Asia Center. In 2017, he cofounded “Southern Mix,” an oral history project focused on Asian and Asian American residents of the South, in collaboration with the Southern Oral History program. In 2017-2018, he received and administered the Kakehashi Program from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fund a 9-day study abroad trip to Japan for 23 students and 2 staff ($300,000). In 2018, he won a Mellon-funded Humanities for the Public Good grant to fund oral history training for refugee teenagers from the local Karen community, working with the Transplanting Traditions Community Farm ($15,000). He also served as Co-Director of the 2018 NEH Summer Institute for Teachers, “Contested Territory,” at the National Humanities Center. As Director of the CAC, Pitelka founded partnerships between the CAC and Winston Salem State University, a historically Black university in the UNC system, and between the CAC and Durham Technical Community College, a public community college, resulting in increased funding for and expansion of Asia-related curricular and research opportunities at both schools.

Pitelka speaks regularly on Japanese history and culture to academic and non-academic audiences. He has given talks at museums, libraries, and universities in the United States, the U.K., the Netherlands, Hungary, Japan, Singapore, and Australia, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Beloit College, the Bowers Museum, the British Library, Columbia University, the Detroit Institute of Art, Duke University, Durham University, Durham Technical Community College, Eötvös Loránd University, the Fowler Museum, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Harvard University, the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, Johns Hopkins University, the Kimbell Museum of Art, Kyushu National Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, National University of Singapore, Northwestern University, Princeton University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Sophia University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UNC Charlotte, University of East Anglia, University of Michigan, University of Southern California, University of Sydney, University of Washington, and Yale University.


  • ASIA 63: First-Year Seminar: Japanese Tea Culture
  • JAPN 231/HIST 271: Ancient and Medieval Japanese History and Culture
  • JAPN 246/HIST 247: Early Modern Japanese History and Culture
  • JAPN 363/HIST 370: 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 720: Readings in Asian History
  • HIST 890: Material Culture and Material Histories

Graduate Students

  • Megan McClory, M.A.-Ph.D. student, Department of History, UNC, advisor.
  • Dalvin Tsay, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, UNC, committee member.
  • Morgan Wilson, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, UNC, co-advisor with Susan Pennybacker.
  • Drisana Misra, Ph.D. candidate, East Asian Languages and Literatures, Yale University, committee member.





Letters from Japan’s Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, with Reiko Tanimura and Masuda Takashi. In production at IEAS Publications, UC Berkeley.

Japanese Art: Critical and Primary Sources. Editor. 4 vols. Material Cultures; Visual Cultures; Printed Matter; and Sites and Patrons, Knowledge and Power. London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

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 Reinvention. Coeditor with Alice Tseng. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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

Selected essays

“Name and Fame: Material Objects as Authority, Security, and Legacy” in Mary Elizabeth Berry and Marcia Yonemoto, ed., What is a Family? Answers from Early Modern Japan (University of California Press, 2019)

The Return of Seduction,” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 77.2 (2017): 153-163.

“Chinese Ceramics and Warrior Sociability in Sixteenth-Century Japan,” in Dora Ching, Louise Cort, and Andrew Watsky, ed. Around Chigusa: Tea and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan. Princeton University Press, 2017.

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.

“Warriors, Tea, and Art in Premodern Japan.” Samurai: Beyond the Sword. 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 (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).

“Back to the Fundamentals: ‘Reproducing’ Rikyû and Chôjirô in Japanese Tea Culture.” In Rupert Cox, ed. The Culture of Copying in Japan: Critical and Historical Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. Slightly altered and in Japanese translation: “Chanoyu ni okeru ‘utsushi’: dentô bunka no eizokuka” [Reproduction in Japanese Tea Culture: The Perpetuation of Traditional Culture]. Wabi: Chanoyu Kenkyû 4 (2007).

Tea Taste: Patronage and Collaboration among Tea Masters and Potters in Early Modern Japan.” Early Modern Japan: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Fall-Winter, 2004.

“Kinsei ni okeru Rakuyaki dentô no keisei” [The Structure of Tradition in Early Modern Raku Ceramics]. Nomura Bijutsukan Kiyô (Spring, 2000).

Work in progress


Reading Medieval Ruins: A Material History of Urban Life and Destruction in 16th-Century Japan, a study of material culture and daily life in a late-medieval provincial city. Under Review.


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

“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)