The Way We Worked | Southern Museum

September 18 - November 21, 2010

Rolling Logs Into the River By W.J. Beal

Over a Century's Worth of American Labor History Visits the Museum!

Work and the workplace have gone through enormous changes between the mid-19th century, when 60 percent of Americans made their living as farmers, and the late 20th century. A new traveling exhibition, “The Way We Worked,” features 86 photographs from the National Archives focusing on the history of work in America and documenting work, clothing, locales, conditions and conflicts. These exquisite photographs, along with accompanying artifacts, span the years 1857 to 1987 and provide visitors with a fascinating glimpse of a nation at work. The exhibition will open on September 18th, 2010 and ends November 21th, 2010.

“Bib Mill No. 1, Macon, Ga” By Lewis Hine, 1909

Though most likely taken for record keeping, the images featured in "The Way We Worked," often reveal much more about how social forces such as immigration, gender, ethnicity, class and technology have transformed the workforce.

The exhibition is divided into five sections:

  • "WHERE We Worked" explores the places Americans worked, from farms to factories, mines to restaurants, as well as how race and gender often determined roles and status.
  • "HOW We Worked" examines the effects of technology and automation on the workplace with images of people on assembly lines or using their tools of trade.
  • "What We WORE to Work" looks at the way uniforms serve as badges of authority and status, and help make occupations immediately identifiable.
  • "CONFLICT at Work" looks back at not just the inevitable clashes between workers and managers over working conditions, wages and hours, but also how social conflicts, such as segregation, have influenced the workplace.
  • "DANGEROUS or UNHEALTHY Work" features many of the photographs taken by social reformers hoping to ban child labor, reduce the length of the work day and expose unsanitary workplaces.

Supplementing the exhibition at various locations will be a video showing a variety of workplaces, and audio segments in which workers from different eras discuss their experiences on the job.

“The Way We Worked,” was created by the National Archives with the support of the Foundation for the National Archives and is organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution of Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES).

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