Federico Marcon‘s new book opens a fascinating window into the history of Japan’s relationship to its natural environment. The Knowledge of Nature and the...

Federico Marcon‘s new book opens a fascinating window into the history of Japan’s relationship to its natural environment. The Knowledge of Nature and the Nature of Knowledge in Early Modern Japan (University of Chicago Press, 2015) traces practices and practitioners of natural knowledge from the late-sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, arguing that the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) saw Japan desacralizing the natural environment, and eventually developing a way to systematically study natural objects that was” surprisingly similar to European natural history without being directly influenced by it.” Marcon’s study traces the objectification of Japan’s natural species, showing how plants and animals were transformed into physical and intellectual commodities and leaving a fascinating pictorial archive that developed as part of this commodification. The book charts transformations not only of natural objects and studies of them in Japan, but also of the professional and social identity of scholars, the disciplinary identity of the field, the popular engagement with natural history, and the illustration of the natural world. The chapters are framed by epigraphs from some of the intellectual and philosophical touchstones of Marcon’s book – including Horkheimer, Adorno, and others – and the text weaves readings and echoes of these thinkers into inspiring readings of Japanese history. It is a must-read for historians of early modern science, natural history, and Tokugawa studies!

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