Q&A: Senior bridges gap between history and computer science

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Q&A: Senior bridges gap between history and computer science

Namrata Ramani

Senior Aditi Ramaswamy documents her passion for American history through her blog, The History Hacker.

aditi

Senior Aditi Ramaswamy (left), posing as General Robert E. Lee, shakes hands with General Ulysses S. Grant, played by senior Arjun Krishna (right). A group of 77 students reenacted the bloody Battle of Antietam earlier this May. Used with permission of Aditi Ramaswamy.

 

The typical teenager doesn’t spend her free time writing about the Civil War, listening to Civil War music, or even organizing Civil War reenactments. But senior Aditi Ramaswamy is not the typical teenager. In a Q&A with El Estoque, Ramaswamy shares her passion for history — and more specifically the Civil War — as well as how she documents it in her blog, The History Hacker. From collecting history memorabilia to creating a mobile application that pinpoints nearby historical locations, Ramaswamy has experimented with several facets of history and computer science.

El Estoque: How did your interest in history begin?

Aditi Ramaswamy: When I was a really little kid, my family went to London. I fell sick, so I couldn’t visit the British Museum. My dad, as a consolation gift, brought back a bunch of books for me called Horrible Histories. I was hooked when I read them. Basically, they were all of the parts of history that your teacher, in a million years, would never tell you. It was all the blood and gore and beheadings. I was like, “Wow, this is so cool!” I then started reading more and more about English history and the Tudor time period. There were all these really strange stories, which made me realize that truth is really stranger than fiction.

EE: How did your interest in the American Civil War start?

AR: That was much more recent. I had always thought of American history as sort of boring, because I thought “America’s so young, what the heck, it can’t have a real history.” Then I visited Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. I wasn’t really excited, but when I stepped out — literally the moment I stepped out of the car — there was something I couldn’t quite place about it. There was something familiar about it. I found myself stepping into the shoes of a Civil War soldier that day. That’s when I knew I was really interested in the Civil War.

EE: When did your interest develop into more of a passion?

AR: I was Googling the Civil War one day and came across some music from that era. It just told an amazing story. They weren’t anything like the pop songs today that are just “I love you na-na-na.” It told stories of battles and of people and of historical events. From then on I went deeper and deeper into the Civil War.

EE: Can you tell us about the Civil War Reenactment organized last year?

AR: After I visited Manassas, I read about the Civil War, listened to Civil War music, watched all the Ken Burns documentaries. But there was something missing in the entire experience. it started with an episode of Community we watched in AP U.S. History. They were having a civil war with pillows. I thought, what if we had a similar event, but with more accuracy? What if we actually had a reenactment? I had read about the soldiers, but I wanted to go a little further. I wanted to experience what they were feeling, what they were thinking. So I convinced — forced — my friends to become my generals and we planned the event for about six months. In the end, 77 people showed up. It was great and we plan to have one again this year.

EE: Do you have any history memorabilia?

AR: I have kepis, which are hats from the Civil War from both sides. I have 57 Civil War songs, which includes seven versions of “Dixie”, a staple Civil War song. In terms of non-Civil War stuff, I have a bunch of books from all sorts of time periods. [quote_right]I also have a charm bracelet my uncle gave me with the seals of Henry VIII and his six wives. When I saw it I screamed, “Oh my God, it’s Anne Boleyn’s falcon!” My grandmother, who came from England to give it to me, just looked at me like “Whatever floats your boat.”[/quote_right]

EE: What inspired you to start the History Hacker?

AR: The History Hacker was started my sophomore year. I love writing and history and I had just begun to dabble in computer science with Python, a programming language. When my dad suggested that I get a blog, I thought it was a pretty good idea. It started off as “Thus Speaks Aditi” as a play on “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” I started posting a few test articles about the Tudors and Rasputin. Over the years I branched off to other aspects of history. I dedicated a section to the Civil War and even posted a bit of potential legislation I wrote, which will never get passed.

EE: What inspired you to write the legislation about the right of secession (shown below)?

AR: That had to do with my Civil War craze. In class, I always learned that they didn’t really secede, they didn’t form their own country because it’s not legal. So I pulled out my handy-dandy pocket copy of the Constitution and I read and I saw loopholes in the argument. I looked up the case Texas v. White, which was the court case in 1870 that determined that secession was illegal for a state. As I read, I saw more holes, so I thought it was time for me to write something. It allowed me to connect my interest in a historical period and apply it to a contemporary period. I want to clarify that I don’t advocate for secession, just that it should be legal.

EE: Your blog is called the History Hacker. How do you blend history and hacking?

AR: They seem completely, completely contradictory. Like history and computer science, what? That’s actually the reaction I get from most people. I’ve created an app that blends both. It’s a map that pinpoints every historical location within a certain radius from your location. I like computer science and I want to use it as a tool to further the study of history. If I make it more accessible to people, I can make them see that there are so many historical spots in the area.

EE: What do you think are your peers’ perceptions towards studying history in the future?

AR: I do have a few friends who plan on studying the humanities in the future. For the most part though, I’ve only met a few people who truly enjoy history. I think that the way history is presented in the media especially, history is generally thought upon as boring. You always see the boring history class. Even in Harry Potter, the History of Magic class was the most boring. Who would not want to learn about the history of the wizarding world! I’ve always had that bone to pick with Harry Potter.

A Proposal to Officially Legalize the Secession of States from the Union