Portal to the Past

Students working with the Historic Muncie project are discovering history in their backyard as they uncover information on some of the community’s most fascinating historical sites, including the hospital where bank robber John Dillinger stayed (Whitney Hospital).   

Muncie—the home of Ball State University—was once coined "Middletown, USA" by a study done in the 1920s for its representation as the typical Midwestern place to live. Several community programs continue to work from this study and document the city's rich history of industry and culture.   

Kayla Eiler, '12, MA '14, a graduate student in the telecommunications digital storytelling program, was involved in Historic Muncie in spring 2012. She says the experience allowed students to become immersed in a part of Muncie they never knew existed.   

"That's my favorite part of this project," Eiler says, "to see the face of new students when they walk into one of the historically preserved homes for the first time. I saw a change in them."     

Historic Muncie is an immersive learning project that chronicles the history of Muncie through an interactive online museum detailing the city's 12 nationally recognized historic districts. The program is funded by a Provost Immersive Learning Grant and began in fall 2011, when 42 students from six majors collaborated to produce photos, video, website content, and documentaries. The Historic Muncie website now serves as an educational resource on the architectural past of the community.   

As part of Historic Muncie, student teams produced documentaries and essays highlighting each of the city's historic districts, its architectural style, and contribution to the community. In addition to providing research resources, the project also aims to educate the public on the continuing struggle of preserving historic areas in a town striving for change.   

"Our culture changes rapidly now, but we need to take the time to look back on where we came from," Eiler says. "If we don't stop and look back, these historic structures will be gone completely."   

Historic Muncie won statewide acclaim in 2012 when the Indiana Department of Natural Resources presented it with the Governor's Award for Preservation of Historic Places. The team's documentary Stories and Legends also won an Aurora Award for Platinum Best of Show in May 2012 and screened four times during the prestigious Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. The film explores historic preservation while tracing efforts to restore structures in Muncie, including an old railway stop (C.R.M. Depot) and the resting place of the city's rich and famous (Beech Grove Cemetery).   

Chris Flook, project director and telecommunications instructor at Ball State, says the class has helped connect students with neighborhoods and residents they wouldn't normally associate with.   

"The project and documentary provide an excellent framework for students to work collaboratively across disciplines as well as with the community," he says. "We had a tremendous amount of support from many community organizations and residents."   

Eiler says this support and the opportunity for students to assist the community make Historic Muncie meaningful.   

"We all were blessed to experience the real Muncie, Indiana," Eiler says. "We saw the strength and endurance of people who have been fighting to save it and will continue to rebuild."   

During fall 2012, about 30 students continued the project, working with preservationists from Muncie at the Midwest Restoration Festival to produce four short-form documentaries. Other partners include Ball State's Center for Middletown Studies, Indiana Historical Society, Minnetrista Cultural Center, Muncie Public Library, and East Central Neighborhood Association.   

Related Links: 

Immersive Learning

Building Better Communities 

Center for Middletown Studies 

College of Communication, Information, and Media

Department of Architecture

Department of English 

Department of History 

Department of Journalism 

Department of Telecommunications

Digital Storytelling Graduate Program

Historic Preservation Program

Provost Immersive Learning Grant