In the 1920s, Robert and Helen Lynd conducted a sociological study of Muncie, Indiana, that was published in 1929 as Middletown: A Study in American Middletown Book CoverCulture. The Lynds examined trends in the life of a small American city and identified six areas: "Getting a Living," "Making a Home," "Training the Young," "Using Leisure," "Engaging in Religious Practice," and "Engaging in Community Activities." Robert Lynd returned to Muncie in the later 1930s to conduct a follow-up study titled, Middletown in Transition, which was published in 1937.

A Middletown III research project was funded by the National Science Foundation from 1976-1981, followed by Middletown IV in 1999-2000. A six-part documentary series titled Middletown was filmed in the early 1980s and broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service. These studies were just the beginning of a continuing series of articles, books, documentaries, and other examinations that would make Muncie as Middletown one of the most studied communities in America.