Federico Marcon studies early modern Japan and is interested in the interaction of social, economic, and political dynamics in the formation of intellectual discourses and scientific knowledge in the early modern world. A native of Italy, he earned a laurea degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Venice Ca’ Foscari, and after extended periods of research in Japan at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and Waseda University he earned a Ph.D. from the History-East Asia program of Columbia University. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, he worked as tenure-track assistant professor in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. He joined Princeton University in 2011.
His first book, The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015), is a social and intellectual history of the creation, developments, institutionalization and eventual disappearance of a field of natural history in Tokugawa Japan. Its primary goal is to introduce the field of honzōgaku (materia medica) and the changing Japanese views on the material environment, but it also aims to reconstruct the social forces that dominated the life of scholars and cultural producers in the early modern period. The work is characterized by a marked interdisciplinary style, mixing together elements of social, intellectual, and environmental historiography as well as of the history of science.
Current Project and Research Interests
Professor Marcon is currently working on a second book that investigates the social and intellectual consequences of the monetization of Japanese society between the sixteenth and the late nineteenth century. Tentatively entitled Money Talks: The Social Life of Money in Early Modern Japan, it reconstructs how money affected Tokugawa society and the ideas that sustained it. As means of exchange, representation of value, measurable expression of social relations, and vehicle of social power through debt/credit relations, money was one of the leading engines of change in Tokugawa society. Thanks to a fellowship from the Japan Foundation spent at the University of Tokyo, he has conducted archival research on Tokugawa trimetallic system; on mathematical and financial techniques utilized by merchants to calculate profit, interests, investment rates, etc.; on how money affected language, ideas, and knowledge in the period; and so on.
Besides his work on Japan, Professor Marcon is interested in various issues in fields as varied as the history of science, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of history. He is currently studying the works of Theodor W. Adorno and of other members of the Frankfurt School of critical theory and their importance in twentieth-century philosophy worldwide.