Federico Marcon

Associate Professor of Early-Modern Japanese History
Office Phone
215 Jones Hall
Office Hours
Tuesday: 1:00 pm-3:00 pm

Or by appointment

  • Ph.D. in History-East Asia Program, Columbia University
  • M.A. in History-East Asia, Columbia University
  • Laurea Degree (M.A. equivalent) in East Asian Languages and Literatures from the University of Venice Ca’ Foscari

Federico Marcon is a 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 studies in Tokugawa Japan. Its primary goal is to introduce the practices, textual production, terminology, and conceptions of honzō (materia medica) studies 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 an interdisciplinary style, mixing together elements of social, intellectual, and environmental historiography as well as of the history of science.

Current Projects and Research Interests

Professor Marcon is currently working on two book projects. The first, entitled A History of “Fascism”: A Study on Historical Knowledge, currently under peer-review for The University of Chicago Press, is a history of the word “fascism” and of its changing political and heuristic agency. It reconstructs and maps the multiplication of its meanings, usages, and referents from its invention in 1919 to the present, by way of its movements around the world, across languages, social groups, and political interests, and through intricate intertextual and intersemiotic networks. It does not just map the complex semantic palimpsest of the term. It rather reconstructs the production of some of its key denotative and connotative markers by different historical actors (Mussolini, Fascist authors, antifascist activists, postwar historians, social and political scientists, artists, philosophers, etc.) and the interpretive habits that these semiosic (i.e., meaning-making) acts elicited. The 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. A chapter on Japan in the 1930s and 1940s serves as a “positive histamine test” on the cognitive effects of the use of “fascism” to make sense of Japan’s transwar history.

The second book project investigates the social and intellectual consequences of the monetization of Japanese society between 1601 and 1852. Provisionally entitled Money Talks: A Semiotic History of Monetary Structures 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.  

Between the two long projects, Marcon published articles and gave public lectures on Italian Fascism, on the history of knowledge and the history of philosophy in early modern Japan, and on the theories and methodologies of history-writing.

Besides his work on Japan, Professor Marcon is interested in various issues in fields as varied as semiotics, the history and philosophy of the discipline of history, comparative history of philosophy, and the history of science.