Ball State capitalized on
the attention generated within the academic community on "Muncie as
Middletown" by launching an initiative to create a Center for Middletown
Studies in 1979. Dwight W. Hoover, professor of history and a recognized
scholar in the fields of social and intellectual history, was the founding
Under Hoover's guidance, the center continued to expand and became an
established academic unit within the university in 1984. Hoover retired in
1991, and E. Bruce Geelhoed, professor of history and a specialist in American
business history, became the center's director. At the beginning of the 2005
academic year, James Connolly succeeded Geelhoed as director.
Over the past quarter century, the center has sponsored a wide range of
research. It assisted scholars conducting the "Middletown IV"
research project, the most recent replication of the Lynds' study. That work
generated numerous publications, most notably The First Measured Century (2001)
by Theodore Caplow, Lewis Hicks, and Ben J. Wattenburg, and its accompanying
PBS broadcast series. Other recent center supported publications include Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish
Community (1997) edited by Dan Rotenburg, and the award-winning The Other Side of Middletown: Exploring Muncie's African American
Community (2004) by Eric Lassiter et al.
In recent years, the center has broadened its research agenda
and begun to use emerging media to disseminate Middletown research and archival
material. Taking a cue from the original conception of the Lynds’ book as a
“small city study,” the center sponsors a regular conference and publication
series on the history and contemporary experiences of second- and third-tier
cities around the world.
Its Documenting Deindustrialization initiative aims
to develop online resources, including oral histories, photographs, film, scholarly
studies, and other research that examines economic change and its consequences
in Muncie and the Midwest since 1950.
It has also completed the What Middletown Read project, funded with
a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. That endeavor includes an online database
detailing library patronage and reading habits in Muncie between 1892 and 1902
drawn from a collection of Muncie Public Library records that document every
book checked out by every patron for most of that period.