Federico Marcon is a social historian of ideas. Although his main area of expertise is early modern Japan, Marcon is interested in the interaction of social, intellectual, institutional, and politico-economic dynamics in knowledge production in the early-modern and modern periods as well as self-reflexively in the discipline of history-writing. A native of Italy, he earned a laurea degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures (with a “minor” in philosophy of language) 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 of Harvard University, 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 nature knowledge 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 two book projects. The first, provisionally entitled “Fascism”: History of a Word, investigates the history of the word “fascism”—from its origins as generic term to its transformations into proper name of Mussolini’s regime, into generic name for various forms of “revolutionary conservatism” in the 1920s and 1930s, and into the name of a universal political form in postwar scholarship—in an effort to understand one of the most bewildering paradoxes of modernity: people’s voluntary abdication of the emancipatory ideals of freedom, equality, and solidarity. This book conceives of a political dilemma in philosophical terms and pursues its analysis through historical investigations. The question it explicitly asks, in its simplest form, is whether “fascism” can function as a generic concept that legitimately collects under the same rubric regimes that have socio-historically distinct genesis, on the assumption that they share some essential common characteristics.
The second book investigates the social and intellectual consequences of the monetization of Japanese society between 1601 and 1852. Tentatively entitled Money Talks: The 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 debit/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 philosophy, the philosophy of history, semiotics, and the history of science.