Center for Middletown Studies Research 


Welcome to the Center for Middletown Studies Research site.  Follow the links below to learn more about the Center’s past and present research initiatives. In the years since Robert and Helen Lynd completed their seminal studies of Muncie, Indiana, scholars working in a variety of fields have returned to Muncie to follow up on their pioneering work, making this small city among the most studied communities in the nation. The Center continues this tradition by sponsoring and promoting research on Muncie as Middletown, on small cities generally, on the sociocultural impact of large-scale economic change, and on other themes and issues the Lynds explored.  Increasingly the Center’s has emphasized collaborative and inclusive scholarship that engages and empowers the community. It also employs digital tools and technology, particularly in partnership with Ball State’s Digital Scholarship Lab to advance research and teaching in these areas. 


The Village

Jennifer Erickson, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Assistant Director of the Center for Middletown Studies is leading a team of undergraduate anthropology majors to investigate Ball State University’s proposed “revitalization” of the Village. Scholarship on universities and cities has demonstrated that cities rely on their academic institutions as stable places of employment, cultural centers, civic partners, and concentrated populations of consumers for local business and services. In turn, a competitive university demands a vibrant neighborhood to meet the needs of its faculty, staff, and students (Rodin 2007). In keeping with their mission, universities are uniquely positioned to lead community revitalization efforts, yet this effort requires understanding the history of the region and its architecture, demographic changes, potential uses of urban space and the diverse stakeholders that will be affected by the changes. Who benefits most and who benefits least when urban universities lead city and neighborhood revitalization efforts? Our project seeks to answer this question through qualitative, ethnographic methods including archival research, surveys, participant observation, and semi-structured interviews. This data will contribute to the literature on the role of urban universities in Rust Belt cities that have seen declining standards of living and a high turnover of owner-occupied homes and neighborhoods near the university.

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Wellness among Afghans in Muncie

Jennifer Erickson, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Assistant Director of the Center for Middletown Studies is working with a team of professors from CSH, the College of Health, and Teacher’s College to provide a needs assessment of Afghans in Muncie. This pilot program in spring 2023 leads classes for Afghans on topics related to health and wellness, parenting, financial literacy, and education, while also gathering data from women and men about their lives in Afghanistan and the benefits and challenges of life in Muncie. The goal of the class is to introduce Afghans new neighbors to education and resources in Muncie, promote health, wellness, self-sufficiency, and a sense of belonging, and to learn more about this population in Muncie so that we can offer relevant services.


Deep Mapping Middletown

Deep Mapping Middletown is a joint effort of the Institute for Digital Intermedia Art (IDIA) Lab and the Center for Middletown Studies to create a detailed multimedia depiction of Muncie, Indiana, that capitalizes on the extensive archive created by the century of social research focused on the city as a result of its role in Middletown, Robert and Helen Lynd’s pathbreaking investigation of modern American life.  In Summer, 2022, the Center for Middletown Studies and IDIA Lab will host a hybrid (in-person/virtual) workshop for a select group of scholars who will devise a plan for designing and developing Deep Maps of the city that rest upon the rich archive of material generated by researchers who have studied Muncie as “Middletown,” from the Lynds’ initial 1920s investigation down to the present.

Initial work on the project has been supported by Ball State University’s Sponsored Projects Administration and the George and Frances Ball Foundation.



The Center for Middletown Studies will mark the centennial anniversary of the original, groundbreaking Middletown investigation with a multifaceted initiative. Middletown@100 offers a case-study investigation of the changes taking place in a broad swath of smaller American cities, particularly those in Indiana and the Midwest. 

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Library Circulation Histories Workshop

The Library Circulation Histories Workshop (LCHW) aims to make historic library circulation data more accessible and more analytically powerful.

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Everyday Life in Middletown

Since 2016, the Center has supported the Everyday Life in Middletown project (EDLM)a collaboration between Ball State and citizens of Muncie, Indiana, to record, represent, and study everyday life in the city. 

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Documenting Deindustrialization: the Middletown Digital Oral Histories  

The Center for Middletown Studies has working to create a historical record of economic and social changes in “Middletown”—Muncie, Indiana—and their impact on the life of the community.  A key facet of this effort has been a series of oral history projects examining different aspects of the transition from a manufacturing-based community to a city dominated by a large state university and a regional hospital

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The Small Cities Conference

Since 2001, the Center for Middletown Studies has convened periodic multidisciplinary conferences devoted to examining the history, present challenges, and future prospects of communities that are neither metropolitan centers nor small towns

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What Middletown Read

The Center for Middletown Studies and Ball State University Libraries collaborated with the Muncie Public Library to convert these records into an online, searchable database that contains details on more than 6,000 patrons, 11,000 books, and 175,000 circulation transactions for the period from 1891-1902 (with one gap).

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Muslims in Muncie

A Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry project headed by Elizabeth Agnew (Philosophy and Religious Studies) and undertaken in collaboration with the Islamic Center of Muncie, Muslims in Muncie produced an hour-long documentary and archived twenty-two oral history interviews that examine the experiences of local Muslim residents from the 1960s to the 2010s

Workers and Industry in Muncie, Indiana, 1880-2012 

Graduate Students Brendan White (History/Center for Middletown Studies) and Ike Obi (Digital Scholarship Lab) constructed a timeline of labor history in Muncie, Indiana, covering the period from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century.


Virtual Middletown

The Center for Middletown Studies collaborated with the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and University Libraries to create Virtual Middletown, a 3-D simulation of 1920s Muncie that draws on the archival record generated by Middletown research

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Comparative Urban Studies

The Center for Middletown Studies sponsors the Comparative Urban Studies series with Lexington Books, a division of Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. It is an outgrowth of the center’s work on small cities in both the U.S. and abroad.

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Print Culture Histories Beyond the Metropolis

Building on its What Middletown Read Project, the Center held a conference devoted to the theme of “Print Culture Histories Beyond the Metropolis” in 2013

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Changing Gears

From 2009-2011, Ball State’s Institute for Digital Education and Entertainment and the Center for Middletown Studies jointly produced Changing Gears, a feature-length documentary film about the 2009 closing of Muncie’s century-old Warner Gear auto parts plant and the loss of industry in the city

Adolescent Well-Being in Muncie 


The Adolescent Well-Being in Muncie project was a collaborative partnership between the Center for Middletown Studies and the Department of Sociology to establish an interdisciplinary immersive learning course.


Social Change Report

The Center for Middletown Studies distributed The Social Change Report from 1991 to 2006. Edited by Theodore Caplow of the University of Virginia, the Report reviewed important social trends in the United States and was distributed to scholars and opinion leaders in this country and in Europe

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Middletown Area Studies

The purpose of these studies was to assess the views and lifestyles of citizens on a diverse range of subjects. The major topics included questions on life satisfaction, education, income, family, religion, and politics.