The Center for Middletown Studies was established in 1980 and became a permanent academic unit at Ball State in 1984. Its purpose is to capitalize on the attention generated by the publication of Robert and Helen Lynd’s seminal account of Muncie, Indiana, during the 1920s, Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (1929) and on subsequent studies by the Lynds and many others.
The center is multidisciplinary in nature, promoting collaboration among faculty and students from sociology, anthropology, urban planning, journalism, history, economics, and other departments. While its principal focus is research on Muncie, it also sponsors investigations of similarly situated communities both in the United States and abroad, as well as on topics related to the evolution of modern society.
The many studies of Muncie form the foundation for the center’s work. In addition to their original book, the Lynds returned to Muncie during the 1930s to examine the impact of the Great Depression. They produced a second book, Middletown in Transition (1937), and inaugurated a tradition of returning to Muncie to explore the development of modern American society up close.
Following the Lynds’ lead, marketers flocked to the city during the middle of the 20th century to test new products, while social scientists used Muncie as a laboratory for investigating a variety of questions. In the late 1970s, a team of sociologists led by Theodore Caplow of the University of Virginia compiled a new Middletown study, 50 years after the initial work. This effort, which became known as Middletown III, produced two books, Middletown Families (1982) and All Faithful People (1983).
Between 1979-1982, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Peter Davis produced Middletown, a series of six separate films which were aired on PBS. Caplow and his research team returned to Muncie in 1998-99 for another study, known as Middletown IV. This project occurred in cooperation with the broadcast of Ben Wattenberg's documentary, The First Measured Century, shown on PBS in late December 2000, and the publication of a book with the same title. Along with these major efforts, the past 80-plus years have seen a host of more specific investigations of particular aspects of modern life as experienced in Middletown.