Maria Cobian is a senior at Florida International University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in Finance and a minor in Business Analytics. She aspires to become an attorney and is currently in the process of applying to law school. In addition, she is gaining real-world experience as a legal administrative assistant at a real estate and probate law firm in Coconut Grove, Florida. She is part of a large Mexican family and as a result, grew up immersed in the culture and language. She enjoys many different hobbies such as reading, drawing, painting, dancing, exercising, and trying new foods, and hopes that traveling becomes a regular adventure in her future.
France Spring Encounter as Text
by Maria Cobian of FIU, 26 January 2023
First impressions are significant and powerful. They are what form your opinions and perspective of a person, topic, situation, and in this case a class. My first impressions have left me anxiously excited for what is to come not only in this Spring course but in the adventures that lie ahead in France. In a way, I feel nervous about traveling alone in an unknown country with a language I do not speak but could not imagine missing out on this possibly life-changing opportunity. On the other hand, traveling alone is also an aspect of this course that I am excited to explore because of the freedom that it provides and the lessons that it will teach me, which I will end up taking with me forever. I chose France to study abroad because it was the one that most called out to me and interested me. It aligns with my future career and aspirations to become an attorney because of the human rights component that we will be extensively studying in the course. I am eager to learn how France and its revolution have inspired other countries, not just the United States of America, in their fights for liberty, equality, and fraternity and the people that ignited those conversations.
Furthermore, not only does France conjure visuals in my mind of the French Revolution and its long, complex history, but it also makes me think of elegance, art, music, and exquisite cuisine. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Paris before and I can, with all confidence, say that it did not disappoint. I was fascinated by the architecture, the streets, the food, and even their incredibly efficient public transportation system. I am interested in seeing Paris in a different light this time around and learning more about the sites and monuments I have already seen such as the Louvre Museum, Saint-Chapelle, the Arc de Triomphe, and obviously the Eiffel Tower. More importantly, I would like to explore the narrow, hidden streets and find the restaurants, shops, and small businesses that locals adore. There aren’t enough days that would allow the ability to experience Paris to the fullest and get to know every little corner. However, I look forward to being able to once again enjoy the luxuries Paris has to offer and immerse myself in the culture, history, language, and cuisine.
Additionally, I am looking forward to visiting all the cities and areas in France that I have not been to, especially the Alps. I believe that hiking in such an awe-inspiring gift of nature is an experience you might only have the chance to participate in once in your life and I am willing to push myself mentally and physically to live in the moment to the fullest. Ultimately, I expect to leave this course with a deeper understanding of the intersectionality of France’s politics, culture, and intellectual conflicts with the United States and the rest of the world with the hopes of becoming a more cultured and knowledgeable person, not to mention the connections and life-long friends I hope to leave with as well.
Enlightenment as Text
“The Simultaneous Existence of Reason and Faith”
By Maria Cobian of FIU, 12 February 2023
The Enlightenment, also commonly known as the Age of Reason, was a time of social and political disruption as many philosophers or enlightenment thinkers changed the mindset of the masses. During this time emphasis was placed on many ideals centered around the individual and inalienable rights, which are basic human rights that every single person is entitled to no matter their socio-economic status, race, gender, religion, or education. I believe that without the Enlightenment many of the rights and liberties we have today, especially as a woman, would not exist because not only did the Enlightenment do away with the systems of the ancien régime of monarchy and nobility in France as discussed in our seminar, but it also eventually led to the birth of the feminist movement and the abolitionist movement, which has always been intertwined with feminism in history. For that reason, I maintain that the Enlightenment was a powerful movement that toppled the first domino in swaying societies around the globe in the right direction that has granted greater equality and liberty to all people in the course of history since the 17th and 18th centuries.
During the Enlightenment, one of the most prominent philosophers of this time period was Voltaire, who was a French writer well known as the author of Candide or l’Optimisme. Candide is a satirical novel of a journeying traveler that is faced with many sorrows and obstacles yet navigates the world with an optimistic philosophy that is analyzed by J.B. Shank in his article, “Voltaire”, to be a direct attack on the philosophy of the principle of sufficient reason, which Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is mostly associated with (Shank). Leibniz believes that there are reasons for every “truth or fact” in life “even if such reasons are unknowable” by people (Melamed). For example, Candide applies this philosophy of optimism while searching the globe for his love, Cunegonde, and throughout every single beating, hardship, and betrayal he endured. If it hasn’t already felt familiar, Pangloss, the “professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology” in Candide is supposed to represent Leibniz and his optimistic philosophy that “all is for the best” in this world (Voltaire). Candide lives by this philosophy despite constantly being on a downward hill that seems to never end and continues to have faith in the people around him and the world even though reason would suggest he should not.
Consequently, reason and faith are not concepts that must exist separately from one another, rather they exist simultaneously in the world. I believe it is necessary to have both in life as difficult situations arise and need to be navigated. Without reason, there is no sense in the world and without faith, life can start to seem bleak. If Candide did not have faith that the world was good and just or based his reasoning on Pangloss’ philosophy, I wholeheartedly believe that his life would not have gone past his expulsion from the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh in Westphalia because a lack of faith that he would one day be reunited with his dear Cunegonde would have sent him into a spiral of despair. Voltaire shows us that no extreme is healthy through his depiction not only of Pangloss but also of Martin the Manichean that believes the world is full of evil and suffering and that God is no longer watching over us or guiding us (Voltaire). At the end of the novel, Candide rejects both extremes and chooses to replace his previous optimistic philosophy with that of hard, strenuous work cultivating his garden. The action of cultivating his garden is a metaphor, in my opinion, for focusing on oneself and choosing to work on what you can control, and is not about spending time analyzing life on philosophical ideas of optimism or pessimism.
Furthermore, Voltaire criticizes the Roman Catholic Church constantly during Candide by showing the many ways that the institution of the church is hypocritical. One such instance would be when the Franciscan friar steals Cunegonde’s jewels, which breaks one of the Ten Commandments that the Catholic Church urges every single Catholic to follow: thou shalt not steal (Voltaire). The actions of a man of God that lay people regard as holy and should set an example of how Christ would act are shown to be breaking the laws God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. Voltaire goes as far as to show how priests even break the vows of chastity they take when ordained when he insinuates that Cunegonde’s brother, now the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh and a priest himself, was sexually involved with the Jesuit priest who cared for him when he was nearing death after the Bulgars attacked his castle in Westphalia and later in the novel explicitly states that the Baron was excommunicated because he was found bathing naked with another man (Voltaire). One last example, which should not be shocking if you know the history of the Catholic Church’s indecencies, is that the old woman’s parents are Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina, which not only indicates the breaking of sacred vows but shows that even Christ’s representative on Earth is no more holy or pious than the next person (Voltaire).
Moreover, Voltaire extensively criticizes the institution of the Roman Catholic Church and depicts the fraudulent actions of those in positions of power within the church, yet he does not criticize the religion itself. I believe that is because although the church is corrupt that is not because of a lack of faith, but because there is a lack of reason. As mentioned in our seminar in class by Professor Bailley, Voltaire was a leading figure of the Enlightenment that attacked the Catholic Church, but he did not attack Protestantism to the same extent because Protestants were educated individuals that used both their reason and faith as part of their religious beliefs. If the Catholic Church at the time hadn’t encouraged the ignorance of its followers and protected those existing systems that maintained the lower class uneducated, then Voltaire would not have attacked them as he did. Ultimately as a result of my analysis of Candide, I believe that reason and religious faith can be reconciled because religion does not need to exist separate from reason, on the contrary, religious spirituality can be better explored through higher education and understanding which can only exist because of reason.
Melamed, Yitzhak Y. and Martin Lin, “Principle of Sufficient Reason”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2021/entries/sufficient-reason/.
Shank, J.B., “Voltaire”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2022 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2022/entries/voltaire/.
Voltaire. “Candide.” Apple Books, Instaread, 12 June 2020, https://books.apple.com/us/book/candide/id1518273519.
Historic Miami as Text
“Conflicted State of Mind”
By Maria Cobian of FIU at Downtown Miami, 8 March 2023
As I write this reflection on my thoughts of our first walking lecture in downtown Miami, I can only describe my state of mind to be conflicted. Confused and saddened by my lack of knowledge of the place I have called home for the past 21 years of my life. It is disheartening to feel as though you do not know the city you grew up in, not only because I believe everyone should have basic knowledge of the history of their hometown, but because I have always felt as though I am from two places and nowhere at all. To shed some light on my background, my family moved to Miami in July of 2001 when my mother was heavily pregnant with me. I was born in November just a few short months after my parents made the big move to the United States from Mexico City with my four older siblings. My heart has always been split in two, half with my roots in Mexico and half with my upbringing in Miami. When people asked me where I was from as a child, I would always reply, “Naci en Miami pero toda mi familia es de Mexico,” and to me, that meant that Miami was only a place I was born in by chance, but that I was truly from Mexico. Even today I have difficulty deciding how to answer that question because I am not just American and not just Mexican, I am simultaneously both and the words Mexican American to me do not encompass all that I am. As I have grown older Miami now holds a more important place in my heart as the city that has provided me with so many experiences, friends, love, and identity. My story is not new, different, or unique, it is the reality of so many others born of immigrant families in the United States, not being enough of one half or the other. I am grateful to Miami for being so diverse and for allowing me, without judgment or discrimination, to explore my culture, traditions, language, and so much more because of the acceptance of immigrants in this city. I apologize to this beautiful city for not knowing its past whether it is derived from a lack of local education in all schools in Florida or from my own lack of initiative to learn more about Miami. So, it is difficult to accept that I am only now learning about Miami, a city I thought I knew much about.
However, today marks a new day where I am not as ignorant of the history of Miami as I had been for my entire life. To me, Miami was always a new and constantly developing city and although it is, the history of the land is rich and ancient. The diverse ecosystems of Miami were sustainably utilized by the Tequesta, the native people of the area from Palm Beach County all the way to the Northern Keys, for thousands of years and even coexisted with Spaniards for a portion of their history only to disperse and disappear once the Spanish traded Florida with the British. The few traces left of them show up in different parts of Miami one being the Miami Circle, which we visited from afar in our downtown walking lecture, and the Deering Estate, which we also visited a few weeks prior. In the Miami Circle evidence of ceremonial activities of the Tequesta were discovered and not too far from there a massive Tequesta grave lies under what is now a Whole Foods and only a mural exists to remember those who called this area home for thousands of years. It is ironic that Miami is a mix of so many cultures and a place where many people have fled looking for freedom, yet the Tequesta themselves were pushed out of their home by those that have led the way to what Miami is today. The memory of the Tequesta, the true native peoples of this land, is all but forgotten and is not even taught in public schools in South Florida.
Furthermore, I was even more shocked to learn that Henry Flagler, who brought the railroad down to Miami from North Florida, manipulated the large black Bahamian population of Miami that not only built the railroad but many of the building structures that are considered historic buildings today, to vote for the incorporation of Miami only to then introduce segregation to a city that had never experienced that cruel concept. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised at the revelation that Miami is one of the few cities to be founded by a woman in the United States. Julia Tuttle owned extensive land in Miami and when a big freeze happened in Florida that led to most citrus agriculture lands producing no fruit, Tuttle sent Flagler a box of oranges to show him that the freeze had not affected the Biscayne Bay area, convincing him to build his railroad down south to Miami. This eventually led to the incorporation of Miami, previously mentioned, which was an initiative greatly pushed by Julia Tuttle. Moreover, the Royal Palm Hotel that Henry Flagler built in Miami would dump all the raw sewage from the hotel into the Miami River, converting a once clean, pristine drinkable river that the Tequesta had depended on into an environmental hazard that is still to this day not resolved. My shock, unfortunately, did not end there when I found out that Miami once had enslaved people, specifically, those of the William English Plantation that built their own slave quarters which continue to stand today in Lummus Park as a historic site. It is quite inconceivable to learn of the history of Miami and not be in a state of turmoil, as I am now.
Ultimately, the horrors of Miami’s past, although not excused and always acknowledged as stated by Professor Bailley, have led to the integration of a plethora of ethnicities, races, cultures, and traditions all in one city. It is thanks to how accepting Miami is that I can feel connected to both parts of me, my Mexican heritage, and my American life. I cannot confidently say that I would be who I am today had my family moved to any other city in the United States. Miami has allowed me to grow up speaking Spanish absolutely everywhere and has even given me the privilege to experience other people’s cultures almost as my own. If not for Miami, I would not have grown up with Venezuelan arepas, tequeños, and hallacas, La Carreta’s ventanita for some quick croquetas and a sandwich Cubano, Colombian pan de bono, Brazilian pao de queijo, and so much more food I savor and appreciate. If you grow up in Miami you are a mix of cultures and that can sometimes cause confusion, especially for those born of immigrants, like me, who are constantly looking to connect with their heritage, however, it is a blessing to live a life surrounded by diversity because, at the end of the day, it makes you a more understanding, empathetic, and worldly person. Learning about the true history of Miami can deepen and enrich a connection to the city and create appreciation and respect for those that came before us such as the Tequesta and Julia Tuttle, who took great care of the land and walked the same terrain as we do today.
Revolution as Text
“Does the End Justify the Means?”
By Maria Cobian of FIU, 12 March 2023
The question most people ask themselves of unpleasant moments in history that eventually led to the greater good or that paved the way towards a better future: “Does the end justify the means?” That is what I asked myself constantly while reading the Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury, being met with a completely different perspective of the French Revolution that I had not delved into. The French Revolution officially started on July 14, 1789, which we know as Bastille Day when the people of Paris were fear stricken and believed that the aristocracy was planning to overthrow the Third Estate or National Assembly and so they stormed the Bastille, a state prison, which had long been a symbol of the tyranny of the royal family (Britannica). However, the revolution had been brewing for a long time as France was riddled with poverty, famine, and a dire financial state. The generations of extravagant spending by each King of France and the country’s involvement in the American Revolution left King Louis XVI with depleted state funds and heavy borrowing that was no longer sustainable. The people of France were suffering the effects of generations of detrimental financial decisions with heavy taxation on the lower classes and little to no taxation on the nobility and clergy, despite owning a great deal of land within France. Furthermore, as King Louis XVI attempted to resolve these issues by calling the Estates-General, the injustice against the lower classes continue to be seen as the Third Estate, although representing the majority of the population of France, received the same number of votes as the nobility and the clergy. Evidently, the Third Estate was always outvoted in any reforms attempted concerning taxation by the other two Estates. However, the Third Estate put a stop to their unjust treatment and declared themselves the National Assembly in the famous Tennis Court Oath, which said that they would not leave Versailles until a Constitution was adopted. Eventually, as one event led to another, the royal family was forced out of Versailles when the women of France marched demanding reforms from the King and the royal family’s presence in Paris. This return to Paris marks the moment in history when the royal family would meet their eventual demise.
As mentioned previously, Cadbury’s account of history in the Lost King of France opened up a new perspective of the French Revolution that I had never considered and one that was never presented to me. However, her account of the events that led to the fall of the monarchy in France is very much biased towards the royal family which is important to keep in mind as a reader and essential to recognize when trying to understand the complexity of the French Revolution. Her book mainly focuses on King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette’s son, Louis-Charles, and his mysterious death and unspeakable treatment by the revolutionaries. After many attempts to govern under a constitutional monarchy, coupled with the royal family’s attempt to escape France, the revolutionaries realized that true reforms would never be fruitful if the royal family continued to have presence and power in the government. This realization led to the execution of the King and a few months later that of the Queen by guillotine. Now the children of the late King and Queen of France were left orphaned and imprisoned in the Temple prison. Louis XVII had long been separated from his mother and older sister, Marie-Thérèse, being mentally, physically, and sexually abused by his so-called caretaker, Antoine Simone (Cadbury). Louis XVII’s presence, although only a child less than 10 years old, continued to be a threat to the revolution because of the possibility of the other monarchies of Europe aiding him in his rise to the French throne. However, the treatment of Louis-Charles towards the end of his life was nauseating and incredibly difficult to imagine that an innocent child could be left in such a deplorable state despite him having no role in the actions of his ancestors. Cadbury described the child to be in a room with no natural light full of his excrement, with rags that barely resembled clothes or covered his body, and surrounded by insects and rats due to the filth. The child was in such a miserable state that he lost significant weight, his joints were covered with tumors, his open wounds and scabs were alive with maggots, and he would even refuse to move or eat because of the pain (Cadbury). I could not imagine how someone could intentionally neglect and put a child through those awful conditions and not have it weigh on their conscience. A quick death by guillotine would have been a much more forgiving and humane death than what Louis XVII suffered when he finally passed away from tuberculosis at the age of 10.
Moreover, the cruelty of the French Revolution did not stop with the treatment of the royal children, it extended to the people of France during the Reign of Terror when thousands of people were executed by guillotine for the slightest appearance of supporting counterrevolutionary efforts. The hypocrisy of Maximilien Robespierre, the mastermind of the Reign of Terror, was evidently shown in the movie Danton when, in my opinion, he becomes exactly what he preached against. His influence on the Committee of Public Safety led to the execution of thousands of people during this period in the revolution and even the execution of leading figures of the French Revolution such as Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins (Wajda). I constantly wondered during the movie if he recognized his position of power and if he ever realized that he was practically a corrupt authoritarian leader that ruled through fear alone. If he ever saw how far he had gone and if he truly believed he was uplifting the rights enumerated to all people in the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen during the Reign of Terror. It was during these moments I questioned the means of the French Revolution, something I had never done before.
Ultimately, just like any event in history, it is not all black and white. It is easy to sit here and analyze an event that happened hundreds of years ago because the reality of it is also incredibly difficult to imagine. Although the mistreatment of the children of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI was unforgivable, particularly that of Louis XVII, and the senseless bloodshed during the Reign of Terror is not excusable or justifiable it is hard to say whether these events were necessary for the benefits later derived as a result of the French Revolution. Had Louis XVII lived, would France have converted back to its long-standing tradition of monarchial rule? If the Reign of Terror had not happened, then would the revolution ever have advanced towards a more moderate rule? These are questions that we will never know the answer to and at the end of the day every event in history has led to another, without one the other cannot happen. The answer of whether the means justify the ends will vary greatly from person to person and even I cannot say I have answered it myself because the horrors described by Cadbury still plague me and I cannot find a way to justify them, but that does not mean that it did not pave the way towards a better life for the French people and that it did not also influence other countries in their revolutionary efforts for equality.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “French Revolution”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/event/French-Revolution. Accessed 12 March 2023.
Cadbury, Deborah. The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. St. Martin’s Griffen, 2003.
Wajda, Andrzej, director. Danton. Gaumont, 1983.
Vizcaya as Text
“Illusions of Miami”
By Maria Cobian of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Garden, 19 March 2023
Vizcaya perfectly depicts the illusions of grandeur, wealth, and importance that Miami is known for today. Even before Miami was considered one of the hedonistic capitals of the world, James Deering set the example and we can see this today by visiting Vizcaya. Right as you arrive at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens from the main visitors’ entrance, you are greeted with two statues, one of Ponce de Leon who claimed Florida for Spain in 1513, and the other of a fictional explorer named Bel Vizcaino. Bel Vizcaino is a character fabricated by James Deering and is supposed to represent the alleged Spanish explorers that shipwrecked here in Miami and lived amongst the native people of this land, the Tequesta. It seems that James Deering was enchanted by the story of Spanish explorers making their way to what is now known as Miami, and he wanted to represent Europe coming to his very own winter home by having these sculptures welcome all those who visited. As you take a few steps further you are greeted by beautiful greenery that invites and motions you towards Deering’s Italian-inspired villa right on the water of Biscayne Bay. However, in the past there was no glass roof or windows, it was completely open, so the ocean breeze would flow through the entire home. As you arrive at the west entrance of James Deering’s house you lay eyes upon Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and pleasure or also known as Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility. The sculpture depicts Bacchus with a crown of grapes pouring wine into a large bathtub. Deering could not have chosen a more perfectly suited representation of what Miami is other than the city people visit to experience the pleasures of life such as food, wine, and beautiful people. As you walk through the courtyard inside his home that is illuminated with natural light from above you see a stained-glass window by the stairs leading to the second floor, with words that read “J’ai Dit,” which means “I have spoken” in French. It is a very interesting choice of words considering that not only does it elude the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis, specifically when God creates light, but the words themselves start with James Deering’s initials as pointed out by Professor Bailley in our visit. All of these aspects of Vizcaya show how Deering believed himself to be better than those around him and might have even seen convinced himself to be a European explorer in unknown terrain, highlighting those illusions of grandeur. They also eerily resemble the modern-day notions that society has of Miami, which is a city where everyone is wealthy and people live a life that can only exist in paradise. Unfortunately, these ideas as pleasant as they sound are unrealistic and only represent a minority of people in Miami, while at the same time erasing the true history behind Vizcaya.
Vizcaya was built on the backs of black Bahamian laborers at a time of racial segregation in Miami and not only was the pay poor, but the working conditions were physically straining. It is not often recognized how big of a contribution the black population of Miami has made in the creation of this city and of the historic landmarks we know and love today. As you walk through Vizcaya you realize nothing about it points towards Bahamians ever being present or the Tequesta having lived on that same land. James Deering built a dream concocted in his mind of an Italian villa as his winter home without ever paying tribute to those that came before and to those that built it for him. We see this often happen to the black population of Miami in the erasure of their contributions to the incorporation of the city as discussed in the downtown Miami lecture. In addition, we constantly see this with the Tequesta all over downtown in the areas surrounding the Miami River and in Charles Deering’s Estate as well.
Ultimately, Miami is a city that on the surface is a beautiful tropical paradise to many outsiders, and even to many people born and raised here, however, on a deeper level, it is complex and requires a difficult conversation about slavery, racism, segregation, and privilege. It is those who were privileged like James and Charles Deering, Flagler, and Major Dade that created the narrative and shaped the history we know today of Miami, without addressing the slavery, the forced segregation and displacement, and the working conditions that existed, which are all unknowing reminders in the landmarks of Miami we visit and love today like Vizcaya. It is necessary to acknowledge the reality of the past in order to fully understand and study the modern-day notions of society and where they come from. Additionally, you can appreciate Vizcaya’s beauty, while also educating yourself on the discrimination, segregation, and brutality that the black laborers experienced. They are not mutually exclusive, rather it is essential to recognize the intersectionality of the situation.