The Institute for Social and Religious Research, an offshoot of the Rockefeller Foundation, hired Robert Lynd to do a “Small-City Study” in 1923. Lynd and his wife, Helen, eventually produced Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (1929), a groundbreaking investigation of a single community.
Building upon the original concept for that research, the Center for Middletown Studies promotes research on smaller urban settings (cities all too often ignored in urban studies literature). Since 2001, it has convened multidisciplinary conferences devoted to examining the history, present challenges, and future prospects of communities that are neither metropolitan centers nor small towns.
The conference has gradually broadened its scope. A focus on Midwestern American cities in early meetings has gradually given way to a more global orientation. In 2004, the conference marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of the first Middletown book. Recent conferences have considered the small city in global context and examined historical and contemporary sources of urban growth. Featured speakers have included Kenneth Jackson, Juan Williams, Alan Wolfe, Theodore Caplow, Leonard Blussé, and Richard Longworth.
Lexington Books published After the Factory: Reinventing America's Industrial Small Cities, a collection of essays from the conference. More details are available here.