The Center for Middletown Studies, in conjunction with the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and University Libraries, is developing Virtual Middletown.
Robert and Helen Lynd’s seminal investigation into the social conditions in Muncie, Indiana, during the 1920s not only marked the community as the nation’s Middletown, it also generated a substantial body of source material documenting social experiences in it. Simply put, Middletown research has made Muncie the best documented city of its size and thus the ideal setting for the digital re-creation of ground-level American social history.
The Lynds’ reporting, along with photographs, film footage, oral histories, and manuscript materials make it possible to re-create factory floors, domestic settings, a downtown entertainment district, and other historical situations in virtual form and to develop scripting that will permit interactive experiences akin to those available at living history museums. The project provides two sets of educational experiences. The first involves its design and construction, which gives Ball State student researchers the opportunity to develop interpretations derived from historical sources. Since those materials are inevitably incomplete, they will have to justify their interpretive decisions in much the same way that a traditional historian would.
Once complete, these setting and the interactive experiences they offer will provide both K-12 and college-level students the opportunity to experience first-hand historical recreations akin to those available at living history museums (such as Connor Prairie or Colonial Williamsburg).
Virtual Middletown’s ongoing value comes from the opportunities it presents for revision and interpretive debate. It will be possible for users to design new interactive scripts and even to propose reconfigurations of these historical spaces based on their own research. A wiki-style Web site will accompany the virtual re-creations, allowing students to explain the research and interpretive decisions behind their designs and to allow others to challenge and propose modifications to those choices.
In short, the Virtual Middletown project will allow students to re-create history for themselves.
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