The History of Round Earth Theory

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11947

Washington's trip across the Potomac. Lincoln's cherry tree. Paul Bunyon. Columbus seeking to prove the Earth is round. All are myths, so learn to carefully examine what you're taught or have heard!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Columbus courageously set out to prove the Earth was round. His crewmen were terrified that they would be driven over the edge of the Earth into an abyss. His countrymen thought he was completely crazy, and that's why Columbus turned to the Spaniards to sponsor his journey. The claims you just read are almost completely false!

Getting to the truth of a matter can be a real struggle.

This is true in life as it is in the study of history. When we don't have direct access to information, we have to take other people's word for it, and sometimes that leads us to believe fanciful myths and false ideas. One of the biggest myths in the study of history is that the people of Columbus' time thought the Earth was flat.

Yes, you read that correctly — they knew with little doubt at all that the Earth was round. They just didn't know there was a gigantic mass of land in the Western Hemisphere between Europe and China. In fact, the theory of a spherical Earth started some two thousand years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue! The Greeks were the first to notice something fishy about flat-Earth theory. The world didn't quite look the way it should if it were really flat.

  1. Read more about the history of the concept of a round Earth.
  2. As you read, write down the top eight or nine key dates, events, and people in the history of the idea.
  3. Then, create a simple timeline that shows how the idea of a round Earth was developed, tested, and proven over time.
  4. Now, read the article, "History of the Round Earth Theory," courtesy of William Martin.
  5. Create your timeline and share it with your parent or teacher, then reflect on the following questions and discuss:
    • How did the idea of a round Earth change over time?
    • What factors finally put the idea beyond any reasonable doubt?
    • How do you think the theory of a round Earth changed people's lives in the real, everyday world?

Belief in a flat Earth is completely reasonable if you don't have either the time or the equipment to see the world in a different way. Historians believe it was only because of the development of leisure time and the slow progress of technology that people could make such discoveries.

In the Got It? section, uncover some of the major proofs that the Earth is round.

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