Carla Nappi

  • Andrew W. Mellon Chair, Dept. of History

I’m trained as a historian of China, and I specialize in the early modern histories of science and health, and of translation, working primarily (but not exclusively) with Manchu- and Chinese-language documents. In this phase of my research life I’m doing my best to inhabit my scholarly academic life as a kind of art practice.

I work in the media of short fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. My most recent books include Metagestures (Punctum, 2019), a co-authored (with Dominic Pettman) book of short fictions that collectively explore Vilém Flusser's theory of gesture; Uninvited: Talking Back to Plato (McGill-Queen's, 2020), a co-authored (with Carrie Jenkins) feminist book of poetry that speaks back to Plato's Symposium; and Translating Early Modern China: Illegible Cities (Oxford, 2021), an account of the history of translation in China that blends historical and fictional elements. My current book project, The Elizabeths, begins with a handful of historical fragments from the records of two early modern astrologer-doctors, and works with the women in those fragments to motivate a combination of essays, short fiction, and memoir that collectively offers an account of storytelling and the historian's craft. To learn more about my research and for updates, see my personal website at

I encourage students to be in touch with me via email if they’re (if you’re) interested in working together. The ecological role that I tend to occupy as a supervisor and committee-member for graduate students usually takes one of three forms: (1) as a supervisor if we share common enough research interests in early modern Chinese or Manchu things, especially natural history or health or translation-related things; (2) as a committee member bringing a deep interest in historical method/theory, world history, or something-STS-related to the party; or (3) as a committee member engaged in experimental academic humanities work beyond the traditional dissertation format.

Education & Training

  • Ph.D. Princeton, 2006

Representative Publications

“Metamorphoses: Fictioning and the Historian’s Craft,” PMLA 133.1 (2018): 160-165.

“Paying Attention: Early Modern Science Beyond Genealogy,” Journal of Early Modern History 21 (2017): 459-470.

“The Gesture of Photographing” (with Dominic Pettman), thresholds 1 (2017).

“A Page at the Orchestra.” In Wendy Doniger, Peter Galison, and Susan Neiman, eds., What Reason Promises: Essays on Reason, Nature and History (De Gruyter, 2016), 221-227.

“Surface Tension: Objectifying Ginseng in Chinese Early Modernity.” In Paula Findlen, ed., Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800 (Routledge, 2013): 31-52.

“Disengaging from ‘Asia’.” East Asian Science, Technology, and Society 6.2 (2012): 1-4.

The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and Its Transformations in Early Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2009).

Research Interests

History of China
History of Central Eurasia (especially Manchu studies)
Translation History
World History
Historical Writing and Theory