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The Way We Worked

Humanities Tennessee presents The Way We Worked, a Museum on Main Street exhibit tour project in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution's Traveling Exhibition Service. The Way We Worked uses large-scale images, audio/video recordings, and artifacts to explore the history and meaning of work in American society across regions and over time. Adapted from an original exhibition developed by the National Archives, The Way We Workedexplores how work became a central element in American culture by tracing the changes that affected the workforce and work environments over the past 150 years.

Our work takes place everywhere—in mines and on farms, in factories and on the streets, in skyscrapers and on space stations. Just as diverse are the tools we use in our work, and our workplace responses to ever-changing technologies. Access to professions has also undergone dramatic changes as people topple barriers based on race, gender, class, and ethnicity in the demand for equality. Work is also a key way in which we identify ourselves, each other, and our communities—badges, uniforms, and of The Secret City.

Tennessee and its people are central and enduring in powering American society. Thus, The Way We Worked offered multiple opportunities for exhibit hosts to link their own collections and local history to launch a variety of concurrent programs such as community research projects, companion exhibits, or book/film discussions. The project also helped launch programs that probed challenging, new perspectives of community history, such as women in the workplace, postindustrial employment, historic cycles of local booms and busts—and future trends.

The exhibit tour toured September 10, 2011–June 2, 2012, at the following locations:

In addition to the exhibit itself, The Way We Worked engaged the public in new ways—by traveling with an iPad or iPhone app that recorded visitors' stories about work, and uploaded them to the Smithsonian's Stories from Main Street website, and by including eight points within the exhibit that correspond, via cell phone, to further information about Tennessee history, and where viewers left  audio comments.

For more information please contact: Melissa Davis,, or Paul McCoy, or call 615-770-0006.