The last couple of weeks have been turbulent ones for the folks living in my hometown of Boston. The recent bombings both scared and motivated a city that could easily fit inside any of New York's five boroughs (something that most New Yorkers will tell you, though not last week, to their credit).
Before the bombings, I had come across a tweet that pointed to what is thought to be the earliest aerial photograph still available – a picture of Boston taken from a balloon in 1860. Anyone familiar with the city would recognize the steeple of the Old South Church, the curve of Tremont Street and the mix of warehouses that would later be rehabilitated as part of the Faneuil Hall remodeling project.
Boston has changed a lot since then, but its roots (and streets) remain fundamentally unchanged. That history and a sometimes helpful, sometimes flawed sense of identity gave many Bostonians an ability to weather last week's events.
While I still love my hometown, I also think the recovered photo informs a different dialogue, one that is starting to take place around things like the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). In miniature, my story is this: U.S. copyright exists to serve a public good, the value in becoming a better-informed and higher-functioning member of U.S. society.
I've read accounts that question the DPLA, fearing it will disrupt the publishing business model. The concern is reasonable, but it has to be evaluated in total. There's not much sense in encouraging the development of creative works if digital versions of those works can be shared only after 90 years or more. The world moves faster than that – much faster.
It's great that a photo from 1860 can be shared widely on the web, particularly at a time when its value may have risen somewhat unexpectedly. Images from the 1800s, of course, are (for the most part) not subject to copyright. The question we should trying to answer, though, is "What do we need to do to make all of us strong?" A shared sense of history, place and purpose can only help.