Coeditor, Journal of Japanese Studies
Director, Carolina Asia Center
Professor, Department of Asian Studies and Department of History
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Office: GEC 3105
Phone: 919.843.0130


Pitelka is a historian of Asia with expertise in Japan. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and has studied and conducted research at universities in Japan, China, Singapore, and England. As Director of the Carolina Asia Center, he wrote the first successful grant to the Department of Education to establish a Title VI-funded National Resource Center for the Study of Asia at UNC. He has also successfully won grants for the university from the Japan Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation. CAC programs he works on include the Phillips Ambassadors Program, the Rajkumar Faculty Fellowships Program, the Jimmy and Judy Cox Asia Initiative Awards, the Mahatma Gandhi Fellowship, and the new Modern Indian Studies Endowment Fund.


Pitelka is a specialist in the history of late medieval and early modern Japan, with a focus on the samurai, tea culture, ceramics, and the methodology of material culture studies.


2018-2022, P.I. on a grant from the Department of Education for UNC’s National Research Center for the Study of Asia
2017-2018, Academic Leadership Program, Institute for the Arts and Humanities, UNC-CH
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
Daniele Lauro, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, primary advisor
Donald Santacaterina, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, committee member
Dalvin Tsay, Department of History, committee member



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. 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.

Selected essays:

“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.

“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).

Work 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 and Masuda Takashi, 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.


“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 (University of California Press, 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) “