Robert Hellyer
Robert Hellyer
Associate Professor
Office: Tribble B-12
Phone: 336.758.3955
Region: East Asia, World
Theme: Cultural and Intellectual History, Economics, Trade, and Commerce, Global/Transnational History, International Relations and Military History, Social History


Robert Hellyer teaches courses on Japan, East Asia, and world economic history. He grew up outside of Tacoma, Washington and first developed an interest in Japanese history while teaching in Yamaguchi prefecture as a member of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.  He later served on the faculty of the University of Tokyo, taught at Allegheny College, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University before coming to Wake Forest.

A historian of early modern and modern Japan, Professor Hellyer has explored foreign relations from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, research presented in a monograph, Defining Engagement: Japan and Global Contexts, 1640-1868 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2009), and in several journal articles and book chapters.  He is currently researching Japan’s role in the global tea trade of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a project for which he received Smithsonian, Japan Foundation, Hakuho Foundation, and NEH fellowships to support research in Japan and the United States.

He co-organized a multi-year research project involving historians in North America, Europe, Japan, and East Asia that examined Japan’s Meiji Restoration in advance of the 150-year anniversary in 2018. In the Fall 2015 semester, he served as resident professor at Wake Forest’s Flow House in Vienna. During the 2017-2018 academic year, he was a fellow at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) in Kyoto, Japan.


B.A.   Claremont McKenna College (1989)
M.A.   Stanford University (1995)
Ph.D.  Stanford University (2001)

Academic Appointments

Wake Forest University, Assistant Professor of History (2005-2011), Associate Professor (2011-present)
Allegheny College, Assistant Professor of History (2001-2005)
Keio University, Visiting Assistant Professor, Faculty of Economics (June 2009-January 2010)
University of Tokyo, Faculty Research Associate (assistant professor) (1998-2000)

Research Fellowships & Positions  
Visiting Fellow, International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken) (July 2017 to August 2o18)
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (Summer 2014)
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, Newberry Library, Chicago (August 2012-August 2013)
Visiting Researcher, Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, University of Tokyo (Summer 2011)
Visiting Researcher (Japan Foundation Fellow), Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo (August 2007-August 2008)
Postdoctoral Fellow, Freer & Sackler Galleries and National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (Summer 2007)
Postdoctoral Fellow, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Harvard University (September 2004-June 2005)

Click here for the complete CV.


  • HST 109 Asia and the World
    The course explores how East Asia, chiefly China, Japan and Korea, have interacted with the outside world from 1500 to the present. It considers East Asian views of Europe and the US, the nature of early modern commercial and diplomatic relations, the adoption of new technologies and Christianity in East Asia, East Asian “modernization” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, WWII in East Asia, communism and socialism, and rapid economic development in the region since WWII.
  • HST 246 Japan before 1600
    This course surveys Japan from earliest times to the coming of Western imperialism, with emphasis on regional ecologies, economic institutions, cultural practice, military organization, political ideology, and foreign relations.
  • HST 247 Japan since 1600
    This course surveys Japan in the modern world. Topics include political and cultural revolution, state and empire-building, economic “miracles,” social transformations, military conflicts, and intellectual dilemmas.
  • HST 249 Introduction to East Asia
    This course is an introduction to the histories and cultures of East Asia, from the earliest times to the present, focusing on China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, with some attention to the rest of South-East Asia and emphasizing ecology and economy, trade and international relations, political ideology, religious belief, and cultural practice.
  • HST 347 The Rise of Asian Economic Power since WWII. (3h) At the end of WWII, Japan, South Korea, and China faced economies ravaged by war. Yet within a few decades, all experienced high-speed economic growth and became some the world’s most dynamic economies. This course will examine the process of economic development in all three nations, paying particular attention to business practices, foreign trade, government and bureaucratic involvement in economic growth, and consumer and labor markets. It will also explore how the three nations have confronted recent challenges of national debt, increasing international competition, and aging societies.
  • HST 348 Samurai and Geisha:  Fact, Film, and Fiction
    This course focuses on two well-known groups in Japanese history, the samurai (warriors) and geisha (entertainers). By analyzing historical studies and primary sources, as well as works of fiction and films about samurai and geisha, the course considers how Japanese and Western historians, novelists, and filmmakers have portrayed the two groups and by implication Japan and its history in the modern period.
  • HST 350 World Economic History:  Globalization, Wealth and Poverty since 1500
    This course explores the growth of globalization and its role in the creation of wealth and poverty in both developed and underdeveloped nations. The class focuses on trade, industrialization, and agricultural and technological advances in global contexts.
  • HST 390 World War II, War Crimes and US Law
    After World War II, the United States and its allies tried and punished German and Japanese for war crimes, thereby establishing new precedents for international and American law.  This seminar will explore the war crimes trials for prominent German and Japanese leaders—in Nuremberg and Tokyo—as well as those held for lower ranking political and military officials.  It will then examine several specific legal cases which involved Japanese defendants seeking redress in US courts and the US laws passed in response to the use of military tribunals to prosecute some war criminals.  The course will conclude with an examination of how in the prosecution of accused terrorism suspects since 2001, the US government has revised and/or reaffirmed the laws and precedents established after WW II.  Students will be invited to research in detail a topic related to the course theme and prepare an extended essay.  Students interested in law school or a legal career may find the course particularly valuable.

Monographs and Edited Collections

  • Robert Hellyer and Harald Fuess, eds., The Meiji Restoration: Japan as a Global Nation (forthcoming Cambridge University Press, 2019).

For a complete list of publications, click CV.

Chapters in Edited Volumes

  • “Quality as a Moving Target: Japanese Tea, Consumer Preference, and Federal Regulation on the US Market,” in Kazuko Furuta and Linda Grove, eds., Imitation, Counterfeiting and the Quality of Goods in Modern Asian History. Springer, 2017, pp. 93-106
  • “On the Dining Car, in the Station Restaurant, and from the Platform Peddler: Tea on Railways in the United States and Japan, 1860-1960,” in Jean-Pierre Williot, ed. Railway Catering Between Imaginary and Consumption: Consumers, Images and Markets. Peter Lang, 2017, pp. 267-282.
  • “Chūgoku kara manabi, seiyō ni urikomi: bunmei kaika ni okeru chūgoku no nouhau,” [Learning from China to Sell to the West: Chinese Knowhow in Civilization and Enlightenment] in Hosokawa Shūhei, Yamada Shōji and Sano Mayuko, eds., Shin ryōiki jisedai no Nihon kenkyū, kaigai shinposhiumu hōkokusho [New Vistas: Japanese Studies for the Next Generation: Proceedings of Overseas Symposium, 2014] International Research Center for Japanese Studies [Nichibunken] November 2016, pp. 129-136.
  • “1874: Tea and Japan’s New Trading Regime,” in Helen Siu, Peter Perdue, and Eric Tagliacozzo eds.,Asia Inside Out: Trading Empires of the South China Coast, South Asia, & the Gulf Region Volume 1: Critical Times. Harvard University Press, 2015, pp. 186-206.
  • Mid Nineteenth-Century Nagasaki: Western and Japanese Merchant Communities within Commercial and Political Transitions," in Yuju Lin and Madeleine Zelin, eds., Merchant Communities in Asia, 1600-1980. Pickering and Chatto, 2014, pp. 159-176.
  • “Poor but Not Pirates: The Tsushima Domain and Foreign Relations in Early Modern Japan,” in Robert Antony, ed. Elusive Pirates, Pervasive Smugglers: Violence and Clandestine Trade in the Greater China Seas. Hong Kong University Press, 2010, pp. 115-126.
  • “Taiheiyō ni okeru Nihon: kinsei kōki no taigai bōeki” [Japan in the Pacific: Foreign Trade in the late Early Modern Period], in Kawanishi Hidemichi, Namikawa Kenji, and David Howell, eds. Shūhen shi kara zentai shi e—chiiki to bunka [From Peripheral History to Total History—Regions and Cultures] Seibundō, 2009, pp. 126-148.


Articles and Essays

For a complete list of publications, click CV.


Review Essays

“The Pacific and its Place in Global History,” David Armitage and Alison Bashford, eds. Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land and People. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014; Rainer F. Buschmann, Edward R. Slack, Jr., and James B. Tueller. Navigating the Spanish Lake: the Pacific in the Iberian World, 1521-1898. University of Hawai’i Press, 2014; Bronwen Douglas. Science, Voyages, and Encounters in Oceania, 1511-1850. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014; David Igler. The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush. Oxford University Press, 2013. Journal of Global History 11.2 (July 2016): 295-302.

“Strange Parallels: Japan,” Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, ca. 800-1830, 2 vols. Cambridge University Press, 2003, 2009. Journal of Asian Studies vol. 70.4 (November 2011): 975-978.

Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Sakoku Theme in Japanese Foreign Relations: 1600-2000 (2002). Social Science Japan Journal 5.2 (2002): 255-259.

Selected Book Reviews

Noell Wilson, Defensive Positions: The Politics of Maritime Security in Tokugawa Japan. Harvard University Asia Center, 2015. Journal of Military History 80.2 (April 2016): 532-533.

Joshua Fogel, Maiden Voyage: The Senzaimaru and the Creation of Modern Sino-Japanese Relations. University of California Press, 2014. American Historical Review 120.5 (Dec. 2015): 1872-1873.

Peter Shapinsky, Lords of the Sea: Pirates, Violence and Commerce in Late Medieval Japan. Center for Japanese Studies Publications, University of Michigan, 2014. International Journal of Maritime History 27.3 (August 2015): 612-614.

Michael S. Laver, The Sakoku Edicts and the Politics of Tokugawa Hegemony. Cambria Press, 2011. Journal of Asian Studies, 71.4 (November 2012): 1147-1149.

Peter Mauch, Sailor Diplomat: Nomura Kichisaburō and the Japanese-American War. Harvard University Asia Center, 2011. International Journal of Maritime History 24.1 (June 2012): 526-527.

David Kang, East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute. Columbia University Press, 2010. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 55.1 (2012): 197-199.