Center News, Fall 2017

New Initiatives. The Center has several new initiatives for the 2017-18 academic year, along with a number of ongoing projects.  New endeavors include:

The 2018 Small Cities Conference: Vulnerable Communities: Research, Policy, and Practice.  Social and political unease surrounding wide differences in regional economic performance has troubled Americans for more than a generation. Job losses due to international trade and automation, coupled with rapid urbanization, have had especially dramatic effects on small cities, towns, and rural communities.  While geographic variation in economic growth is not new, it appears more pronounced today than in the recent past. Recent research suggests that many of these places are at increased risk of job loss, population decline, and associated social problems as these trends accelerate in the coming years. Additionally, political turbulence during the 2016 election cycle has led to increased policy interest in the nonmetropolitan settings where these difficulties are most acute. These challenges call for extended scholarly research with a policy or applied focus. Effectively confronting challenges facing nonmetropolitan communities requires better understanding the many dimensions of vulnerable communities, and encouraging interaction between academics who study these issues and policy makers who address them. The 2018 Small Cities Conference at Ball State University brings these two groups together to facilitate this process.  For more details, see here.

The Everyday Life in Middletown Project.  Drawing on the example of Mass Observation, an investigation of everyday life in England launched in the 1930s, the Everyday Life in Middletown project (EDLM) examines the daily experiences of local residents.  Headed by Patrick Collier (English), the project will collect diaries and other commentary about ordinary experiences that too often go unrepresented in public conversation and yet may provide a basis for a shared sense of community.  EDLM continues work undertaken by Collier and BSU students at the Virginia Ball Center in 2016; it is jointly supported by the Center and BSU’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

The Modern Politics of Middletown.  Working with Chad Kinsella (Political Science), the Center will undertake an investigation of voter polarization in Delaware County and in similar environs in other parts of the United States.  BSU’s Digital Scholarship Lab is also sponsoring the project.

American Muslims in Muncie.  Elizabeth Agnew (Philosophy and Religious Studies) will lead a Virginia Ball Center project examining the experiences of the local Muslim community during the 2017-18 academic year.  Center director Jim Connolly will serve on the Advisory Board and the Center will supply logistical support for the project.

Ongoing Work. Our ongoing work includes the following projects:

Churches and Civic Life in Middletown Oral History Project.  The Center for Middletown Studies received a grant from the George and Frances Ball Foundation to support the Churches and Civic Life in Muncie Oral History Project.  It examines the changing role of churches in the community during the city’s transition to a post-industrial economy.  Research on the project, including a series of interviews with local religious leaders, is largely complete and the Center will hold a public event in November to report its findings.

Visiting Scholars. The Center has been pleased to host visiting scholars from China on an ongoing basis.  Gao Bingzhong and Han Chengyan, of Peking University, and Chen Qiuxu, of Northeast Normal University, conducted ethnographic and historical research while in residence at the Center during 2016-2017.  We have invited Anthropologist Liang Wenjing of Chonqing University to work at the Center for 2018-19.  These visits have resulted in numerous papers and publications.  A major study of civic life in Muncie/Middletown and a Chinese-language edition of Middletown in Transition (originally published in 1937) are also planned.

The Wild West in Middle America.  Our investigation of representations of the American Midwest in Middletown and other Midwestern contexts continues.   A full corpus of press accounts and commentary on the performances of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Indiana has been compiled.  Jim Connolly presented an analysis of this and other material at the Buffalo Bill Centennial Symposium at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming, in August, 2017, and a digital publication based on that presentation is in development.  The project is sponsored by a grant from the Center of the West.

Virtual Middletown.  Two modules of a prototype for Virtual Middletown, the 3D visualization of community experiences in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Muncie, are now complete.  Depicting the Ball Brothers glass factory circa 1925 and a local performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1899.  The 3D environments are supported by digital archives that are accessible in-world.  The two modules will serve as proof of concept for this ongoing project.

Print Culture Research.  The two books produced as a result of the Center’s investigation of reading habits in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Muncie continue to attract attention.  Both What Middletown Read: Print Culture in an American Small City (Massachusetts, 2015) and Print Culture Histories Beyond the Metropolis(Toronto, 2016) have received strong reviews.  What Middletown Read authors Frank Felsenstein and Jim Connolly presented research derived from analysis of the What Middletown Read database at the University of London and Columbia University during the 2016-2017 academic year and will publish an article based on the London presentation in Reading Communities a forthcoming volume to be published in the U.K.  Several scholars from other institutions have launched projects that employ WMR data.