Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Amelia Earhart’s Most Infamous Solo Flights Revisited

ekthorp's picture


                                          Mercator Projection Map

                                    Mercator Projection Map

Eckert IV Projection Map


                                                   Eckert IV Projection

                                                Goode Homolosine Projection

                                                        Goode Homolosine Projection


-       1932 Transatlantic Solo Flight- Harbor Grace, Newfoundland to Derry, Ireland


              1935 Hawaii to California Solo Flight

1935 San Francisco to Mexico City to New York City Solo Fligh

1937 Attempted World Solo Flight- Oakland California to Lae Pacific Island



Amelia Earhart’s most famous solo flights have been tracked on maps since she created them. However, it is difficult to find her flights projected on anything but the typical Mercator map of the world. To understand why this projection may not be an accurate or fair way of depicting her travels, one must have a brief history of maps. For my project, I tracked Amelia Earhart’s solo flights on three opposing maps- the traditional Mercator Map, the Eckert IV Projection Map, and the Goode Homolosine Map.

The Mercator map was created around 1569 during the time of colonization of America, South Africa, Asia, and Africa by European countries. As a result, the equator is shows 60% down the map, instead of 50%. This makes all countries south of the equator seem much smaller than they actually are, and makes them seem less important.  While maybe this was useful when colonization was still dominant, for the last 200 years, the Mercator map is basically useless for any kind of accurate depiction of the world. Why, then, is it still the most prominently used map of the world in existence today? It is not as though there are not other options of maps to use- there are hundreds of others.  The two others I used are some of the most commonly used ones. The Eckert IV Projection Map has equal area projection and was created in the 1920's by Max Eckert (1868-1938). The Goode Homolosine was created in 1921 by J. Paul Goode (1862-1932). It has arguably the least distortion of all world maps.  For more information on maps, go here. Maps are certainly and interesting reflection of human thought and development.

Challenging maps always makes me feel a bit uneasy, and reminded me in a sense of the way we challenge information and meaning in my Gender, Information and Science and Technology Class. People do not generally think about how inaccurate the information they are given is, or even if the information has any meaning in it at all. When researching how erroneous the Mercator map is, I began having a feeling of uncertainty and ill-ease that reminded me of how uneasy I felt in class when we were discussing where meaning comes from, and if it exists inherently within information. I also related the way I critique these maps to N. Katherine Hales article “How We Think:  Transforming Power and Digital Technologies.” She suggests that we stop just critiquing texts and being critiquing all data. Maps would be an easy place to start doing that.

            When comparing a traditional flight path of Amelia Earhart’s flights on a Mercator Map to her flight Path on an Eckert IV Projection Map and a Goode Homolosine map, there are a few noticeable differences. Her solo Transatlantic flight is seems much shorter on both the Eckert IV and Goode Homolosine, and in the Goode Homolosine, it is interrupted. In fact, her Hawaii to California solo trip, which seems much shorter than her Transatlantic solo trip on a Mercator Map, seems comparable in size to her Transatlantic solo trip. Her attempted round-world flight seems much longer, and her trip from South Asia to Lae seems much longer than on the Mercator map. What does this change about our conceived notions of Amelia’s flights?  Maybe we would value her Hawaii to California flight more than her Transatlantic solo flight, or perhaps we would think of her as more of an international figure, due to her longer stay in the Pacific Islands. Or perhaps we would value her flight from India to Lae, the second half of her trip, more than we value her first half, across the Atlantic. The result of changing the standard map from a Mercator to a more accurate representation would reshape how we evaluate Amelia’s life and legend, from one not just of American icon, but world-wide traveler.

             Maps are one of the earliest forms of information, and the most used types of maps have changed little since the 16th century. While the Mercator map is perhaps the least accurate form of map, it is still the most commonly used map today. If we switched to more accurate presentations of the globe, our perspective on the world would change.  We would appreciate developing nations more, evaluate distances more accurately, and maybe value ourselves just a little less.




"Goode Homolosine Projection." Online Image. Geocart® Version 2.6, the Macintosh Map Projection Program. 2009. 3/3/2011 <>. 

Hales, N. Katherine. "How We Think." 2010. 

"Mercator Projection Map." Online Image. Contemporary Maps of the world. 2011 . 3/3/2010 <>. 

Rios , Alberto. Mercator Map of the World.  July 31, 2010 Arizona State University. 3/3/2011 <>. 

"The Eckert IV Projection." Online Image. The Eckert IV Projection. No date. 3/3/2011 <>. 





Jack Feix's picture

Mercator Projection Map - AE

Where can I obtain a copy of Mercator Projection Map with Amelia Earhart's famous solo flights?

Serendip Visitor's picture


Just a few things to add to your thought process about Mercator and projection.
When Mercator developed the projection he was one of many people trying to figure out how to describe our world on a flat piece of paper and retain accuracy of distance,shape,area, direction, bearing and scale. Of course there is no holy grail of projection that can be accurate in all of these areas at once. Mercator was trying to help navigators sail across the ocean at the parallels between Europe and America. His projection (or a variation of it) does this well and is still used as the predominant projection for sea charts and aviation. Therefore in fact Mercator is not useless.
And it is sad that it had been the projection of choice for many maps. But I am hard pressed to believe (after much reading) that Mercator himself was putting forth a eurocentric view of the world. He was very much a pacifist and in his later years spent most of his time in quiet study and contemplation. Perhaps this projection was used to show her flight because it is the projection used by navigators???
Another projection I have seen,even when describing Earhart's flight is Plate-Carree.
And here is a link to another way to look at world fights.

Cartographers would probably argue with you about the Goode Homolosine being the best projection for the world. Projection is generally selected when determining what "story" you are telling with your map and what you need to preserve in that story - distance, area, shape, bearing,direction or scale.

Anne Dalke's picture

Uncertainty and Ill-ease

It's very exciting to me to see you taking our interrogation of "information"--what it is, how it gets presented--into the arena of maps, which have such a "secret life." We take their accuracy for granted,  but they are always selective reductions and distortions of what they represent. Presenting (and then reading) the world from one vantage point, we lose the advantages of another.

So I would push you further than you are willing to go @ the end of this project, where you call for "more accurate presentations of the globe." More diverse representations, yes, but each one of those will be "inaccurate" in a different way, highlighting some dimensions and erasing others.

Hayles suggests more than what you say--"that we stop just critiquing texts and begin critiquing all data." She actually argues that we go further, to "critique the mantra of critique," and replace it by creating new forms of representing data. So try that experiment: what would the world look like if drawn from your point of view? Or one that seems more equitable than the proportions represented by the Mercator projection?

Why is the Mercator projection "still the most prominently used map of the world in existence today"? Convention, maybe; habit, maybe--but also because the colonialist presumptions that underlay its creation still underlie the thinking of most folks in the northern hemisphere?
This is more than, as you say, an "interesting reflection of human thought and development." I seems to me all about power. Does that make you uncertain and ill @ ease??