Snapshots of the Past
So how does a mild-mannered Uber driver get started in this Boston Auto Tour venture?—though I think adventure is a better word. I give credit to a little online business I ran for thirteen years. But in retrospect, maybe it’s not so little after all.
Called Snapshots of the Past, my business was focused on old historical maps, prints, and photographs. I devoted 20,000 hours to gathering, organizing, categorizing, and analyzing a collection of more than 100,000 public-domain digital images from the Library of Congress. For many years, I sold fine-art prints of these images, mainly through a store on Amazon but also through several hundred retailers. You can read a detailed history of how I got started with this if you want.
In 2016, historian Michael J. Simpson wrote an essay titled "On Nostalgia." which explored the broader concept of nostalgia and the role memory has played in the commercialization of historical materials. Snapshots of the Past tapped into the American public’s hunger for connections with our shared past. It helped tell the story of America in all its glory and diversity, and sometimes through its struggles and failures. War and peace, depression and prosperity, heroes and rascals, purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain—all seen through a photographer’s lens or the artist’s brush. The awesome panorama of the American experience became just a mouse-click away.
In the Snapshots collection are a huge number of Boston-area images: panoramic maps, old photographs, cartoons, paintings and architectural renderings. Browsing the site gives you an appreciation of what Beantown looked like in colonial times, during the Brahmin ascendancy of the nineteenth century. I was particularly struck by a beautiful old map which was drawn by a British cartographer in 1775 and that shows Boston roads in Revolutionary times. If only Paul Revere had Internet access instead of his rudimentary set of binary lanterns!
The Boston Auto Tour will take this a step further. It will make some of these historic images available through this blog in order that drivers might better appreciate the history of what’s around them during their daily commute.
Gentlemen (and ladies), start your cellphones—I’ll rev up the engines.