By Errol Castens
NEW ALBANY – Work shapes our environment, creating buildings and gardens and roads and bridges and farms and lakes and railroads and utilities and art.
In turn, it shapes how we live – from the luxuries we enjoy to the rhythm of our days and even how we define ourselves.
The Union County Heritage Museum in New Albany, in cooperation with the Mississippi Humanities Council, will explore the professions and the people that sustain American society when it hosts “The Way We Worked,” a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition, from Jan. 12 to Feb. 18, 2014.
In concert with the national traveling exhibition, the museum is looking to share the look and the stories of people at work in Union County and its surrounding areas, through photos and oral histories.
“This exhibit looks at the workers of America for the past 150 years,” said Museum Director Jill Smith. “A local exhibit that we have developed looks at the way Union County and the region have worked. From Bankhead Street to the Union County line in all directions there are work stories, and collecting these stories is part of this exhibit.”
A sound booth has been built at the museum especially for the oral histories, where visitors will answer broad questions about their work.
“We want to know things like, ‘How old were you when you started working? And how does your work have to do with your sense of who you are and your purpose in life? And what is your dream job?’” Smith said. The exhibition will also seek recollections of businesses no longer in existence, including black businesses.
Smith noted that workers of all kinds deserve recognition and that documenting people’s work lives is an essential part of collecting society’s history.
“We want to celebrate our workers,” she said. “We have a lot of programming that is associated with this exhibit, and we encourage teachers to bring their classes.” On www.ucheritagemuseum.com there is a link to a Teacher’s Guide developed for this exhibit for students at all grade levels.
To make the exhibition complete, Smith and her staff are soliciting work images from many decades past. The museum will scan photos into its computer system and will return the originals to their owners. High-resolution digital copies are also welcomed.
Physical photos may be brought or mailed to the Union County Heritage Museum, 114 Cleveland St., New Albany, 38652. Digital photos may be sent to jill@firstname.lastname@example.org. Call the museum for more information (662) 538-0014.