Center for Middletown Studies News, Fall 2018

After completing the Churches and Civic Life in Muncie Oral History project, the Center has embarked on a companion oral history project examining local nonprofit social service providers.  Both the current study and the preceding examination of faith communities are funded by the George and Frances Ball Foundation.  (For a report on the findings of the Churches and Civic Life Study, see here).  We expect to complete the study of nonprofit social service agencies by the fall of 2019.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West has agreed to fund the second phase of the Wild West in the Heartland project, which examines the response in Midwestern communities to William F. Cody’s famed Wild West touring exhibition.  The initial phase of the project investigated responses in Indiana between 1883 and 1916.  The second phase will cover the same period and look at communities in Illinois.  The larger goal of the project is to explore the process of regional identity formation in the United States.

The Everyday Life in Middletown project continues.  We recently completed our ninth diary day, and the fourth of the project’s present phase. We’ve developed a prototype of a data visualization tool for the project and are devising new initiatives for data collection.  A podcast is also in the works. The project directors, Pat Collier (English) and Jim Connolly (Middletown Studies) are preparing a grant proposal to the NEH to fund a symposium exploring everyday life studies.

Alan Lessoff, Illinois State University, will present a talk on the unrealized urban plans on November 8th, 2018.  Entitled “Best-Laid Plans: The Public History of Failure and Missed Opportunities in a Mid-Sized Illinois Metropolitan Area,” it will take place at 7:30 PM in Bracken Library 104.  The event is jointly sponsored by the Center for Middletown Studies and the Department of Urban Planning.

The Center is currently hosting two Visiting Scholars: Dr. Liang Wenjing, an anthropologist from Chongqing University, China, is conducting research on voluntary activity and nonprofit institutions in Middletown.  Li Yexin, Professor of Literature, Hubei University of Nationalities, China is in residence for one year and is focusing her research on American folk art in Muncie and the Midwest.

The Ninth Small Cities Conference took place in in May, 2018.  The Conference organizers from the Center for Business and Economic Research and the Center for Middletown Studies have selected a group of papers from the conference to include in a published volume and the contributors are currently revising their papers for publication.

The Center-supported “Muslims in Muncie” project, headed by Elizabeth Agnew (Philosophy and Religious Studies) and sponsored by the Virginia B. Ball Center completed a documentary film and a set of oral histories.  The film is slated to air on public television later this year and the oral histories will be held in the Ball State University Archives and Special Collection.  Both will be available through the University’s Digital Media Repository.

Ongoing Work. Our ongoing work includes the following projects:

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.