A Historian in the Making

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History Day in California is a statewide program sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation in conjunction with National History Day. Students in the 4th-12th grades engage issues, ideas, people, and events in history and then apply what they have learned in creative and original presentations.

The 2009 History Day theme was “The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies.” Kapil’s project—“Robert Oppenheimer’s Legacy: The Ultimate Stalemate”—was on the American physicist who served as scientific director of the Manhattan Project. Kapil explains how he first became interested in his subject: “I heard on the news that India and Pakistan are on the verge of war. But when I discussed this with my parents, they said [war] was not likely because both countries have atomic bombs.” Kapil’s questions about the current South Asian stalemate and the history of the atomic bomb inspired him to focus on Oppenheimer and his legacy.

In addition to using archived letters, pictures, and newspaper articles in his presentation, the young historian employed some decidedly modern research methods. “I interviewed all the experts by email,” he says. “I went to Google and found out which professors at Stanford and Berkeley are experts on Oppenheimer, and I interviewed them.”

In 2008, Kapil won the County and State championships for his project “Partition of India—A Story of Conflict and Compromise.” Then only eight years old, Kapil argued that Britain gave India its freedom in order to “end conflict with the Indians,” while the partition of India was “the only way to end conflict between Hindus and Muslims.”

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