Ball State capitalized on the attention generated within the academic community on "Muncie as Middletown" by launching an initiative to create a Center for Middletown Studies in 1979. Dwight W. Hoover, professor of history and a recognized scholar in the fields of social and intellectual history, was the founding director.

Under Hoover's guidance, the center continued to expand and became an established academic unit within the university in 1984. Hoover retired in 1991, and E. Bruce Geelhoed, professor of history and a specialist in American business history, became the center's director. At the beginning of the 2005 academic year, James Connolly succeeded Geelhoed as director. 

Boy scouts in front of Three Sisters Over the past quarter century, the center has sponsored a wide range of research. It assisted scholars conducting the "Middletown IV" research project, the most recent replication of the Lynds' study. That work generated numerous publications, most notably The First Measured Century (2001) by Theodore Caplow, Lewis Hicks, and Ben J. Wattenburg, and its accompanying PBS broadcast series. Other recent center supported publications include Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community (1997) edited by Dan Rotenburg, and the award-winning The Other Side of Middletown: Exploring Muncie's African American Community (2004) by Eric Lassiter et al.  

In recent years, the center has broadened its research agenda and begun to use emerging media to disseminate Middletown research and archival material. Taking a cue from the original conception of the Lynds’ book as a “small city study,” the center sponsors a regular conference and publication series on the history and contemporary experiences of second- and third-tier cities around the world.

Its Documenting Deindustrialization initiative aims to develop online resources, including oral histories, photographs, film, scholarly studies, and other research that examines economic change and its consequences in Muncie and the Midwest since 1950. 

It has also completed the What Middletown Read project, funded with a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  That endeavor includes an online database detailing library patronage and reading habits in Muncie between 1892 and 1902 drawn from a collection of Muncie Public Library records that document every book checked out by every patron for most of that period.