Robert Hellyer

Associate Professor Robert Hellyer
Japan, East Asia
B-12 Tribble Hall; 758-3955

BioRobert 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, and NEH fellowships to support research in Japan and the United States.

Professor Hellyer is also a co-organizer of a multi-year research project involving historians in North America, Europe, and Japan that is examining 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.

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
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.


  • “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.
  • “Strange Parallels: Japan,” Review Essay of 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.
  • “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.

For a complete list of publications, click c.v.


  • 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 Japan since World War II
    This course surveys Japanese history since the outbreak of the Pacific War, with emphasis on social and cultural developments. Topics may include occupation and recovery of independence, the “1955 System,” high-growth economics, and the problems of prosperity in recent years.
  • 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.