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work Livelihoods through the ages

Approximately a third of our lives is spent at work – in days gone by it used to be even more. Over the past 150 years, the way in which we work has changed profoundly. An exhibit at the Swiss National Museum in Zurich illustrates some of those changes.

From craftsmen to employees, and spinners to workers at internet giant Google’s lush “jungle” offices: most job descriptions today are light years away from the livelihoods known to our ancestors. The only constant over time is that gender still largely defines the work that we do.

An exhibit at the National Museum in Zurich entitled “Work Photographs 1860-2015” presents a “selection of rarely published images” on employment in Switzerland, in four thematically arranged halls. The large-format photos are from a vast collection owned by the museum. One area of the exhibit presents lost crafts and occupations.

A new extension of the museum, expected to open in 2016, will house its photographic and visual property. By the end of July, a new study centre with some 400,000 historical photographs, will be opened to the public for research.

(Text: Christian Raaflaub,; Images: Swiss National Museum).

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