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A difficult task...

Starting the process

a.     For my part of the project, I first had to determine who I would consider to be an “expert” on the signatures on our documents. I decided I would email as many professors from the history departments of noted California institutions such as UC Berkeley, UCLA, and Stanford. I was hesitant to reach out to professors at universities outside California simply because they might not feel as much obligation or attachment to a high school across the country. Likewise, I was much more enthused to contact professors at Stanford because of the close relationship Paly enjoys with their faculty. The following text closely resembles a typical email to a professor: 

[Insert Proper Salutation here],

I am a junior at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California.. In five sections of my United States history class, we are working on a long-term project focused on World War II. Specifically, our teacher acquired a set of documents, similar to a series of sign-in sheets, which contains the names of many World War II generals such as Leslie Groves. My job in this project is to show scans of these documents to experts such as yourself in order to ask for your reaction and possibly other questions, depending on your availability. I understand that you are most likely juggling a busy schedule, and I can assure you I will try to only take a few minutes of your time. 

 

Thank you!

Emma DiFilippo

 

I would also attach a scan of one of the pages that contains Lieutenant Groves’ signature, so as to show the recipients of the email the kind of documents we were researching. Essentially, I sent a large number of these kinds of messages out into academia and hoped for a few eager responses.

 


Responses
 
The first batch of emails I sent out received absolutely no responses. The second batch received three responses out of approximately eight emails. Out of those, only two professors offered any sort of reaction towards the documents. Paul Robinson, a Modern European History professor at Stanford University, generously shared his thoughts with me.

 Dear Emma,

The only name I recognize (or can make out, with your help) is Leslie Groves.  I know about him from John Adams's opera <Dr. Atomic>, which recounts the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer's involvement in the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos.  Groves is a major character in the opera and was a major player in the development of the bomb.  So my speculation about the signatures on the sheet is that the document is a sign-in sheet for the highly-secret Los Alamos project.

Paul Robinson

 

Jack Rakove, an eighteenth-century historian from the same university as Mr. Robinson, seemed to agree with Robinson. He said, “If Groves is associated with it, then it's highly plausible to think that it has something to do with the Manhattan Project, but that would be a much bigger command staff than would be located at New Mexico, so perhaps it has something to do with the overall administration of the project (but I doubt it, because it would involve too many people in the knowledge of it).”

 Both of these well-educated individuals speculated that the documents point towards an atomic bomb-related situation, especially considering Groves’ involvement. However, Mr. Rakove also realized that the documents contain too many names for it to involve anything extremely secretive.

Essentially, the very few reactions I received focused on Groves’ signature and the speculations stemmed from his notorious involvement in the Manhattan Project.


Questions to ask
 

a.     For the next part of the project, I decided to come up with a few questions to ask those that responded. These are the top three questions that I came up with: 

i.      Do you have any speculations regarding the purpose of these documents? Why would all these generals’ signatures occupy the same sheets of paper?

ii.     Do you recognize any of the signatures on these documents? Could you tell me anything about those that you recognize, specifically with their involvement in World War II?

iii.   Lieutenant General Leslie Groves is obviously one of the better-known names on these documents. Do you have any insight as to why Groves left such a great impression on World War II and the course of history in general?

I was particularly interested in the names that the professors recognized, especially those that our class did not recognize. I hoped that at least one expert would be able to offer insight about the possible purpose of the documents. And I used the signature of the famous Leslie Groves to show these experts that the documents did retain some value. I also wanted to ask each expert for their initial reaction towards the documents, whether it be confusion or admiration or something else. However, convincing even one professor or aide to respond to my questions proved to be a difficult task, which will be evident upon reading the next section.

 


Reflections
 
I did not originally realize how difficult it would be to receive responses about our project. I underestimated how busy a typical professor is and was not nearly persistent enough by simply emailing them. This section would have turned out far better if I had called or arranged face-to-face interviews with professors at Stanford, because I could have explained the project better and shown them the actual scans of the documents. It was not easy to convey the purpose of my questions via email, and the general confusion shown by the professors is evidence of this. However, the few that did respond to my emails were very eager to help, even with their full schedules and lack of clarity.
 
Overall, I wish I had more time to perfect this process and contribute more to this section of our website. That said, I did learn a lot about contacting professionals and trying to arrange interviews and coming up with appropriate questions.