Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

September 30, 2015

Photo courtesy of Archives and Special Collections

The reading habits of Muncie residents in the early 20th century were the focus of What Middletown Read. The project was one of two by Ball State faculty—the other being The Real Buffalo Bill —that the National Endowment for the Humanities named among "the top grant projects from NEH’s history."

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has singled out two projects with Ball State University ties as among the most significant projects the agency has funded.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding, the agency has selected what it describes as "the top grant projects from NEH’s history," including What Middletown Read and The Real Buffalo Bill.

What Middletown Read is a joint undertaking of Ball State's Center for Middletown Studies, University Libraries and the Muncie Public Library. Discovered in 2003, a large cache of circulation records circa 1891-1902 from Muncie Public Library offers unprecedented detail about American reading habits at the turn of the 20th century.

Reading behavior turns to data

NEH support allowed project directors Frank Felsenstein, an English professor, and James Connolly, director of the Center for Middletown Studies and a history professor, to construct a searchable online database derived from the public library’s records. As a result, they have published "What Middletown Read: Print Culture in an American Small City" (2015).

"We're beyond thrilled to have our work included on such a prestigious list," Connolly said. "Frank knew he had come across something unique and important when he first encountered the Muncie Public Library's handwritten records, and this recognition confirms his judgment."

Buffalo Bill comes to life

Ball State history professor Douglas Seefeldt worked on the NEH-funded The Real Buffalo Bill. The project explored the life of William "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

The Real Buffalo Bill, a series of NEH-supported projects that explore the life, legacy and impact of William "Buffalo Bill" Cody also made NEH’s list.

In his role as senior digital editor of the Papers of William F. Cody, Ball State's Douglas Seefeldt, a history professor, has worked closely with the Buffalo Bill Center of the West on several projects, including The William F. Cody Archive and the Cody Studies digital research and scholarship platform. Ball State is one of the participating institutions.

"Cody is a significant, prototypically American figure," Seefeldt said. "He enjoyed a regional, national and international reach during his lifetime. He had a broad impact and left a lasting legacy on an emergent mass culture in the United States and Europe."

NEH funds 63,000 projects

Since its creation in 1965, NEH has provided leadership and funding to the best in humanities research, preservation, digital development, education, endowment-building, films, exhibitions and public programming.

Altogether, the NEH has funded more than 63,000 projects. The 50 highlighted to celebrate the anniversary also include The Papers of George Washington, Ken Burns’ The Civil War documentary film series and the preservation, publication and interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

"Each of these stories is about a grant that changed the landscape of the humanities, and collectively, these grants represent the best of the work the NEH has funded over the last 50 years," said Rachel Poor, a member of the NEH Office of Communications.