Long after her plane crashed in 1937, Amelia Earhart continues to make the news. An aviation pioneer, as well as one of the best known women in aviation history, Earhart’s disappearance has continued to be of interest to researchers, and her legacy is celebrated by artists such as Rihanna in a 2017 photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar.
If you are looking for research paper topics in women’s studies or American history, consider looking into 2016 evidence that Earhart spent her last days as a castaway, or discuss her life and role in aviation history.
Who was Amelia Earhart?
Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. She became a flight advocate as well as a feminist activist, and her career as a lecturer as well as a pilot kept her in the public eye. She made a solo flight from Hawaii to California in 1935, and in 1937, her attempt to fly around the world ended in disaster: the plane vanished. Since then, armchair and professional researchers have sought clues for what happened to the pilot (and novelists and filmmakers have written their own unlikely and supernatural theories).
But while she is best known as a pilot, biographer Susan Butler, in her 1997 book East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart, reported,
“not only was Amelia an amazing flyer, easily the greatest female pilot of her time, but that she was a person of judgment and integrity with a strong sense of mission—that she had started out as a social worker and had gradually become as single-mindedly dedicated to improving the status of women as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Margaret Sanger. … Her contemporaries knew Amelia Earhart in all her permutations: as fashion plate, as lecturer, as educator, and of course as flier.”
Earhart captured the imagination of her own generation, and generations after. Her life offers a variety of research paper topics, including her testimonies before congressional committees, her work improving the self-image and position of women, and her adventurous and record-breaking flights. Additional research paper topics could also look at how her legacy has persisted in novels and film.
Earhart’s mysterious death
Though her life certainly offers a number of compelling research paper topics, it is her death that figures most prominently in modern research. When her plane disappeared in 1937, eventually people assumed that she died in the crash. But people also kept looking. In 1991, Ric Gillespie discovered a piece of metal on a remote island in the South Pacific and was convinced it belonged to Earhart’s custom Lockheed Electra. In 2016, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), of which Gillespie is executive director, offered evidence that a skeleton discovered on the island of Nikumaroro, Kiribati in 1940, belonged to Earhart.
“Until we started investigating the skeleton, we found what history knew was that Amelia Earhart died in July 2nd, 1937, in a plane crash. But there is an entire final chapter of Earhart’s life that people don’t know about. She spent days—maybe months—heroically struggling to survive as a castaway,” Gillespie told CNN reporter Karla Pequenino in “Amelia Earhart’s last chapter was as a heroic castaway,” published November 2, 2016.
The remains were initially held by the British government, and assumed to be male. TIGHAR began investigating the remains in 1998, applying modern forensic techniques to analyze the skeleton. They were able to match the original measurements to Earhart’s dimensions, as well as compare the skeleton’s unusually large forearms to a photograph of Earhart’s bare forearms. This, too, was a match.
But regardless of the new evidence, it is unlikely that researchers will stop offering contrasting theories. In the Smithsonian Magazine article “Will the Search for Amelia Earhart Ever End?” from January 2015, discussing Gillespie’s metal artifact, Jerry Adler wrote, “Anyone who thinks his new data will settle the question of what happened to Earhart, though, hasn’t been paying attention for the last 78 years.”
What do you think happened to Amelia Earhart? Tell us in the comments.