Tracy Alan

Student of History


The first history book written and designed by a student of Portland State University


This project was conceived as a way to combine my studies in graphic design and history. By typesetting all of my writings from two years of history study at Portland State University and drafting an introduction, I offer a way to consume my historical essays whilst showcasing my publication design skills.

Cover design, illustration, typesetting, layout, and writing all done myself. The book includes a table of contents and index for easy discovery of topics.

What else, then, is all history if not the praise of Rome?
— Francesco Petrarca


Petrarch and Rome: Understanding the Humanist Historical Perspective

From our modern perspective, Petrarch’s rhetorical stance regarding the service of history to the glory of Rome is precious. Many empires have claimed centrality to history, their confidence buoyed by a sense of their own essential nature…until all surety evaporates with the onset of decline, or perhaps the rise of a new power asserting the same primacy. Substituting another city, nation, or empire suffices to drive the point home: after all, what else, then is all history if not the praise of America?

Obviously, something does not feel quite right with that statement. It is not just the neo-conservative patina that influences our reading, it is also our understanding of the unique, but limited role the United States has played in the history of humanity. Simply put, America isn’t all there is to history, which makes it easy to dismiss Rome as central. We know this because of our perspective further down the timeline of history, which grants us a different viewpoint from Petrarch’s fourteenth century laude Romanorum.

What warrant, then, does Petrarch use to define “all history” as encomiastic of Rome? Petrarch’s personal reverence Rome was instrumental in establishing a sense of Classical Antiquity as a golden age, from which his own darker times has descended. Yet, it was also the perspective of a fourteenth century humanist that considered Roman culture as a marker of civilization and urban efflorescence; the same logic used to conceive of the “Dark Ages” enabled Petrarch to idealize Rome. The hope was that one day the city-states and communes of Italy would reconstitute the latent greatness of their Roman heritage.

From Petrarch’s viewpoint within a Europe fragmented into many cultures, languages, and polities, Rome was the preeminent example of global, hegemonic civilization. His view of the centuries that followed the decline of the Roman West was dim, which meant framing history not just in terms of light and dark, but also as a Roman endeavor. To Petrarch, civilization was synonymous with Rome; since history is the study of civilization, therefore history is Rome. Any endeavor seeking to ignite the civic spirit, urban fabric, and cultural body of Italian city-states toward the exemplar of Rome would partake in the grand project of history.

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