Investigating history through various perspectives has always captivated me. Looking back at elementary and middle school, I remember the fascination when my peers and I learned about important historical events and figures for the first time. The most memorable historic figure who captured my curiosity and interest was Amelia Earhart. Her captivating historical tale, which has continued to develop for over 80 years, has also taught me how important it is to always question accepted truths — to always remain skeptical.
As children, many of us learned some rendition of Earhart’s story: In June 1937, Earhart took off in her Lockheed Model 10E Electra airplane in an attempt to be the first woman to successfully circumnavigate the globe. However, she ostensibly died after crashing in the Pacific Ocean during the attempt. Despite extensive searches, she was never found.
Most people take this story as fact, accepting that she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, had crashed and perished in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. However, some have speculated that Earhart and Noonan somehow survived, and these believers have continued to look for evidence to prove the accepted history wrong. Not easily convinced, they held onto their doubts, leading them to discover crucial evidence that supported a completely different narrative.
Recently, a photo was rediscovered from the National Archives that allegedly depicts Earhart and Noonan. The photo has sparked a new round of discussions surrounding Earhart’s presumed death and disappearance. This photograph — along with other evidence including pieces of a plane recovered in the Marshall Islands — signals a high likelihood that Earhart and Noonan survived a crash landing and were promptly captured by the Japanese.
I was surprised by these news stories. I did not understand how it was possible to discover such a radical piece of information over 80 years after Earhart’s disappearance — a piece of evidence that could drastically rewrite her narrative. The discovery of this photograph forced me to acknowledge how important it is to always dig deeper. It reminded me that we should not immediately accept everything we are told. The re-discovered photo seemed to open up an entirely new narrative of Earhart’s final days, and it shows the importance of questioning accepted truths and keeping unsolved mysteries alive.
The discovery of this photograph promised to change our understanding of one of the greatest historical mysteries. Yet, the photo truly teaches us that we must never immediately or blindly accept conclusions, even when it seems that our skepticism has paid off. Ironically, the very photo that was believed to depict both Noonan and Earhart now faces challenges. Japanese military history blogger Kota Yamano argues that the photo was published in a travel book two years before Earhart had even departed for her flight.
Yamano’s revelation further proves how important it is to continually seek the truth: As the photo and new theory rapidly spread across the world, many were quick to accept and believe it. Yamano, however, kept digging beyond what was being broadcast.
The constant development of Earhart’s case has reaffirmed how important it is to continually question accepted truths and to search for more nuanced answers. Les Kinney, the man who rediscovered the photograph and other documents supporting Earhart’s survival, sought lost evidence in need of unearthing. Yamano, the Japanese historian, also demonstrated the importance of skepticism with his investigation of the photo.
The many twists and turns in Earhart’s continuing narrative exhibit the degree to which one’s intellectual curiosity can affect others’ understanding of the world. For that reason, deeply investigating stories, rather than simply accepting them as they are presented, is more essential now than ever.
Whether it is in a classroom setting or in our daily lives, we should all actively seek to expand our understanding of the past and present. The truth is not always in plain sight, but engaging with a range of sources and perspectives allows us to better understand the world around us.
Elisabeth O’Brien is a sophomore in the College. Brain Waves appears every other Friday.