Interactive website, documentary examine Muncie's historic homes, neighborhoods

Topics: College of Communication Information and Media, Immersive Learning, University Libraries, College of Architecture and Planning

April 12, 2012

Majestic older homes in historic districts and aging courthouses may get a second look from passersby as a result of a new website and documentary created by Ball State University.

Under the direction of Chris Flook, a Ball State telecommunications instructor, students in an interdisciplinary immersive learning class have produced the documentary, "Stories and Legends: Historic Preservation in Muncie," a major component of the website Historic Muncie.

"The students wanted to shed light on the history of Muncie as told through the historical structures that remain and those that have been demolished," Flook said. "I believe that the quality of our civic pride can be measured in the quality of our buildings."

The immersive learning project is designed to make area residents more aware of the community's past by examining homes in historic districts and structures demolished over the years as well as gleaning insights from interviews with historians and architectural experts.

The project examines the constant struggle communities face when historic structures, such as government buildings, begin to decay as the decades pass. In many communities, aging structures from the 19th century were demolished make way for modern buildings that although efficient, were lacking in character.

"The story explains the importance of historic preservation," Flook said. "As the buildings deteriorate, what does that say about the community? Attempts to rebuild or restore the structures can be viewed as a way to rectify the problems of the city."

Long-term impact

Flook believes the project could deflect some of the criticism about Muncie by its residents and Ball State students by pointing out the community's historical importance, including its manufacturing roots and role in educating thousands of college graduates over the last century.

The project began in 2011 as Flook's student groups began working with the community development office for the city of Muncie. Other partners include the Delaware County Historical Society, Indiana's Division of Historical Preservation, Minnestrista and the Muncie Public Library. Campus partners included Ball State's Bracken Library and College of Architecture and Planning.

"This was a truly immersive experience for the students because they have delivered an incredibly important historical project that can be used for generations as Muncie begins to reinvent itself," Flook said. "Majors from telecommunications, history and historic preservation worked together on research and story development. The idea was to bring together technically and artistically talented students with their research-oriented counterparts."

Understanding Muncie's history

The documentary will provide viewers with a better understanding of Muncie's rich history, said James Connolly, director of the Center for Middletown Studies at Ball State. Muncie became known as Middletown as a result of Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd's sociological studies in the 1920s and '30s.

"We know more about Muncie than we do about most cities of similar size because of the long tradition of Middletown research," he said. "The work of the Lynds and their many successors has documented the social and cultural character of the city over the past century."

Historic Muncie adds something new because it explores the interplay of Middletown's social history and its built environment, said Connolly, adding that the project will be a valuable resource for both citizens and scholars seeking a deeper understanding of this historically important community.

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