Michael McWhorter: Miami as Text 2023

Pictured: Michael McWhorter – CC BY 4.0

Michael McWhorter is a 19 year student at the FIU Honors College currently pursuing a Biomedical Engineering Major. With his major he hopes to design and build technology that will facilitate the lives of those born with mental and physical disabilities, and provide them with an even playing field in life. He has a deep passion for soccer and most other sports, but he also enjoys learning about the geopolitical history of the world, and being entrepreneurial with his friends.

Encounter as Text

Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay

“Reflection Before the Journey” by Michael McWhorter – FIU, Miami – 01/26/2023

To be frank, I never believed that I was going to go through with this program and officially be travelling to Italy this summer. Even at the first meeting I though that I was eventually going to drop out of the class and find another way to get the Honor’s College credits that I needed for the semester. As it turns out though, with every passing week I am growing more grateful of this opportunity that I have and I am going to take full advantage of it. I’m now officially full of anticipation for the summer and I can’t wait to revisit Italia with less personal restrictions on what I can do, and with the teachings of the program professor John Bailey. I am extremely motivated to learn everything I can about the country, the art, the culture, and about the different historical eras that have shaped Europe and the world.

Image by Peggychoucair from Pixabay

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Italia more than most, having been there four times over the course of my life. Three of those times were strictly for pleasure, having gone with my family and having visited Milano, Roma, Venezia, and Firenze multiple times, while each on each trip developing a new perspective due to me being older and more experienced human at the time. One does not get used to seeing buildings like St. Peter’s Basilica or having Da Vinci’s Last Supper right in front of you. Some would say more importantly, you don’t get used to watching an Internazionale match and witnessing the team talisman Mauro Icardi grab a goal in front of the Curva Nord. These incredible one of kind experiences are unique to Italy, and it will always play a role in my life. The third time I went, which to me technically counts as pleasure, was to train with the Venezia F.C academy a few years back. Soccer has always been my number one passion and I have an infinite amount of love for the sport. To put it simply, missing this chance to train with Italian players and coaches, was not an option. I was able to stay on the island of Lido near Venezia, as that’s where the academy is situated and I lived some unforgettable moments there. Not to mention, while I was staying there my family was provided a guide who had grown up in Venezia that showed us all the backstreets and non-tourist destinations of the city, where the real beauty can be found. When you factor in my love for geopolitical history, Renaissance artforms, and calcio… Italia appears to be a fantasy.

I have very high expectations for this program. I am looking forward to absorbing copious amounts of historical information and to walking through incredible towns and structures that could not be described using words. If I have to pick a location that I am most excited for though, it would have to be Cinque Terre. The idea of staying inside an actual catholic monastery combined with not having ever seen the town before, is making me anticipate an unbelievable experience.

Ancient Rome as Text

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“Origins” by Michael McWhorter – FIU, Miami – 02/05/23

When one stops to think, there’s not really a whole lot that is uniquely original to “American” culture. In fact, there are probably arguments against the notion of America even having a culture, due to the constant immigration of humans from every other country into the United States. As a result of the population and immigration boom specifically in the United States over many years, the cultures of all different parts of the world have merged together and they definitely cannot be contained by abstract concepts like local or state boundaries. If a historian had to give an answer about the origins of American culture and structure though, the answer would most likely be the Ancient Roman civilization.

Ancient Rome was by no means a perfect society, but it cannot be denied that it laid so many of the foundations for modern civilizations that exist today. So many Roman concepts and structures, both physical and social, play a fundamental role in almost all of facets of American government and social systems. There are too many examples to name them all, but two of the most notable to me are the establishment of a senate to keep an authoritative figure in check and the staple architectural design of buildings that serve a purpose in the field of government.

Having a group of officials that represent the emotions of the common people is something has proven to be absolutely critical in the modern American system of politics. This Roman creation paved the way for the modern Senate, House of Representatives, and by extension the other branches of government that make up the checks and balances system that functions today. I believe that it was more meaningful to have a senator from your part of town back in Ancient Rome than it is today to have an official that represents your county in the government. The Senators of ancient Rome were encouraged to gather in the center of their part of the neighborhood to speak their mind to the people they represent, and they also needed to set aside time of the week to hear the complaints and requests of their countrymen. That’s something that I think could do some good today, but I am sure there are logistical issues about it, and it probably wouldn’t change the agendas of modern-day politicians.

Unlike perhaps the government officials having a more personable and familiar role when it comes to connecting with members of their district, there are some other ways of life in Ancient Rome that I find myself completely rejecting and disapproving of. I’m sure that I’m not alone in believing that the concept of slavery is utterly devastating and horrible in every single sense. The slave trade was a huge part of the Roman economy and it would completely destroy the lives of any poor soul that would be unlucky enough to cross paths with a greedy or abusive Roman with no sense of morality towards them. This of course is not unique to Ancient Rome, as pretty much every advanced society maintained and profited off of slavery up until about 100 years ago.

In fact, Rome was very advanced in terms of the place of women in their society. Women were allowed to own property and conduct business within the city, and they were allowed enough rights to be autonomous if need be. Of course, they were still horribly treated and frequently abused by their husbands and other men, and this is unacceptable.

Despite it’s many flaws, Ancient Rome is undeniably the largest influence of not only American social systems but most other modern systems of government for the current most advanced societies on the globe.

Historic Miami as Text

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“Why Don’t We Know This?” by Michael McWhorter – FIU, Miami – 02/26/23

To put it simply, what surprised me the most about the lecture was how little I knew about the history of Miami. There is such a rich and diverse cultural historical background of the city that carries on into modern day Miami. All of the languages spoken, different ethnicities there are, and thousands of distinct cultural characteristics, can be easily explained by all of the past events that form a part of the city’s inception.

As an example, I believed for most of my life that that south Florida was a gruesome swampland filled with only alligators until the Spaniards arrived in the 1500’s. I had no idea that there had been an advanced and civilized tribe living in the Miami area since 600 BCE. Professor Bailly is constantly mentioning how ridiculous it is that our education systems have never designated any importance to the history of the city we live in, and how it affects how we function as a community. I couldn’t agree more with him after having been on this journey through downtown Miami.

If I had to select one aspect of the walk that surprised me the most, it would have to be the fact that we have a old slave quarters right in the first park of Miami. First of all, I had never even thought about there being a first official park of Miami, and to add on to that, I had never imagined or associated the slave trade as being a part of the history of Miami. In addition to that, the story of William Wagner and Eveline Aimar should form part of the curriculum for every elementary student, as it teaches incredibly important lessons about hardship, love, and standing up for what you believe in. Before the walk I had never heard of the story, and now it’ll be recorded in my memory forever.

I would say that my place in history in the city of Miami is similar to many others who live here. My mother is Cuban and she arrived in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift. She lived here most of her life but she eventually met a man from San Francisco who was from Italian descent through her job, and he became my father. So, I’m the son of an immigrant mother and I am extremely grateful to her for not only making the sacrifice to leave her country, but to also remain in such a diverse place like Miami where all cultures are welcome and the history is so diverse. In regards to where I place myself in the history of Miami, I would say that I form a part of the one of the fastest growing multicultural cities in the world, and my job is to always be accepting of new ideas and traditions that I may not be aware of or used to. Miami is a city where one needs to be open minded, in order to fully take in all of the knowledge that is available through all of the different people with different experiences that live here.

Italia America as Text

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“Gladiator Fights vs. The NFL” by Michael McWhorter – FIU, Miami – 03/12/23

A completely sold-out arena filled with tens of thousands of passionate spectators whom are looking down, towards the two opposite halves competing against each other with every ounce of their ability. The audience is put in a trance by the impressive feats of physical strength and the employment of effective game-plans and strategies. The special event consumes the city in which it is taking place, thus allowing the viewers and fans to forget all of their personal struggles having to do with their home or work life.

Am I describing an ancient Roman Gladiator fight to the death, in which a famous warrior is participating? Or am I describing the Super Bowl happening at the SoFi Stadium in California that just occurred in the year 2022? The truth is, that as long as I don’t go too in depth for my description of what’s going on in terms of the actual sport, there are very few differences when it comes to the entertainment aspects of sports between first century BC Rome and the United States in 2023.

In fact, the differences between the two eras of sports probably peak when discussing the Gladiator games within the colosseum with American football. Thankfully, there are no sports in modern United States that would permit for the death of an athlete if possible. Of course it is possible on extremely rare occasions for an athlete to pass away during a sporting event, but it always leads to extreme sadness and sometimes protests within the sporting community. In ancient Rome though, sports that usually spelled for the death of both humans and animals were probably two of the most liked and respected sports that the people of the city enjoyed viewing. Chariot racing and wrestling were among the most popular sports that while still dangerous, were not completely based on bloodshed for the sake of entertainment. Wrestling is still an incredibly respected and popular sport today in America, and chariot racing is essentially just the ancient predecessor of NASCAR and other motorsports that are loved by many Americans.

Furthermore, the culture surrounding the sports in both eras are very similar and show very few exceptions with the exception of certain aspects of fan culture. Fan culture was most likely not as extreme in Ancient Rome because you really didn’t have any teams or any specific gladiators that you and your family could support for many generations and defend all your life. Other aspects such as how the cities mostly shut down because of how the events take up all the business of the townspeople, and even the owners of the local business want to give their employees opportunities to watch the performances.

There is another interesting component of sports and sports culture that has carried over from the years of Ancient Rome, and still remains today in my opinion. It is the benefit that sporting events have for the political leaders of the country they are partaking in. While viewing and playing sports are very important facets of my life, I am a firm believer that the government propagates the popularity of said events in order to shine the light on something other than the state of affairs of the country. It is an opportunity for leaders to win the favor of their people and put any opposition discourse temporarily to the side. This can be seen in how the Roman emperors would attend the games and please the audience by being engaged with the events, and how the president will sometimes attend the Super Bowl and can be seen having a beer or wearing a sports uniform.

In reality, not much has changed in terms of how sports play a huge societal role in the United States from how it was a clearly very important characteristic of the average Roman’s daily life.

Vizcaya as Text

Image by Michelle Raponi from Pixabay

“Out of Place” by Michael McWhorter – FIU, Miami – 03/19/23

The grand and magnificent Vizcaya Villa is probably not something that a northerner was expecting to see hidden within all the swamp and thick brush that southern Florida was infamous up until the early 1900’s. I like to believe, that the main reason James Deering took so much pleasure in inviting wealthy Americans to stay at his villa, was to witness their reactions full of surprise and awe when first coming into view of the beautiful pink coloring of it’s outer walls, and the magnificent view of the ocean provided by the downward path to the front doors of the house.

The inside of the house is a combination of so many different styles and aesthetics, that it would be very difficult to categorize the whole property under one architectural classification. This can be explained by James Deering’s infatuation with western European culture, and his three year long journey he took around Europe in order to collect both ideas and raw materials for the building of his mansion. There are a multitude of Spanish, Italian, and French influences that make up the physical identity of the whole estate, but it was most definitely not the Italians, French, or Spanish who built the villa from scratch and made it into the beautiful, preserved site of cultural importance that it is today. It was predominantly the black Bahamian population living in Miami, that were responsible for the construction of the whole estate. Yes, Deering did bring in some sculptors from other countries in order to design certain specific projects, but all of the foundations of the property, the gardens, and the main house were built by Bahamians who lived in horrible conditions and barely were paid for their gruesome efforts in the unforgiving Miami heat. The fact that Deering did not pay any homage at all to the people who built his grand mansion, demonstrates a little more about his character. A design or artwork dedicated to the Bahamians probably did not fit his perfect image of a European Revival mini-kingdom, and chose to never acknowledge the work that was done for him.

There are many small details throughout the mansion that give away the type of person that James Deering was. The “J’ai dit” inscription on the window, the mismatch of styles relating to the different rooms within the house, and the combination of very different artworks and pieces from different eras, demonstrates that he was just trying to do everything in his power to show his wealth. He just wanted to gather up every piece of art he could get his hands on to impress his frequent audiences and party attendees. Once you see that he sliced up the only piece of Christian artwork in the house, to make the panels that open up for the organ pipes, you could probably tell that he really had not a care in the world in regards to morals, ethics, authority or any higher power that was thought to have existed while he was alive. If you had to attribute something positive to James Deering, it would be that he knew what he liked, and he was definitely a very free-thinking individual that did not bow down to any traditions or regulations that may have held him down.

Renaissance as Text

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“There’s no Modern Science without the Renaissance” by Michael McWhorter – FIU, Miami – 04/07/23

Without the Renaissance occurring in 15th century Italy, everyone’s lives would be so radically different. There’s no question that we would not have advanced as far as we have today without it. Skyscrapers, modern medicines, and modern machinery, are just a few examples of things I don’t believe we would have developed as a society, if it weren’t for the developments throughout the time period.

In terms of how the Renaissance affected my major, biomedical engineering, it couldn’t have been more influential. Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the fathers of modern engineering, because of all of the machines he was able to design and blueprint, even though they didn’t all necessarily come to fruition. He created the concepts of the flying machine, ballista, and helicopter, which are all engineering marvels in their own right. In addition to this, his study of the human body at rest and in motion, drove many advances in the field of medicine, which also is of large importance in the biomedical field today.

To follow up on the concept of being at rest and in motion, which can be most famously seen in Da Vinci’s drawing, Vetruvian Man, this thought process is incredibly important in the field of engineering today. The concepts of pressure and tension are all developed to new levels during the Renaissance. Artists such as Michaelangelo even captured the concept of tension when creating the David for example, which makes it seem as if the statue was in movement. In addition to this, the development of blueprints that occurred in the Renaissance, is responsible for all of the more complex constructions today. In these blueprints, Renaissance minds were able to depict exploded mechanics, and create images of machines being rotated in order to generate a better understanding of the technologies. This is still in heavy use today especially in the biomedical engineering field.

In fact, it forms my favorite part of the Renaissance because showing all of the inner machinations and working parts of a machine by exploding it onto a 2D plane, is still something that I see today in my coding and virtual design classes. Quite frankly, I don’t even have a great understanding when it comes to designing 3D objects in a 2D space, like the great minds Da Vinci and Brunelleschi did.

In reality I do not reject any of the main ideas that came from the Renaissance. I believe Humanism, the rediscovery of natural texts, and the advancement of science, all benefited the world and paved the way for a better future. Furthermore, while I am a religious person, I do believe that complete control by the Catholic Church in all aspects of life, was a killer of creativity and free thinking. Not to mention, the Protestant Reformation was born from the Renaissance, and without it, the Catholic Church which was always very subject to corruption, and would have probably had ultimate power for centuries to come, were it not for the movement of creativity generated from the Renaissance.

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