Monday, March 11, 2013

Get a Read On Muncie's Past!

Thomas Ryan relaxes with a book.

 A new exhibit in Archives and Special Collections on the 2nd floor of Bracken Library tells the story of What Middletown Read. The exhibit, “What Middletown Read: Building a Digital Tool to Uncover the Past” runs from March 11 to June 28.  

Since the original Middletown study conducted by Robert and Helen Lynd in the 1920s, which resulted in the seminal work Middletown: A Study in American Culture and was followed by many other studies and projects on Middletown, Muncie has been perhaps the most studied community in the world. In 2011, a new project resulted in information about the reading habits of residents of Middle America as represented by the citizens of Muncie. 

Muncie Public Library Accession ledger

The What Middletown Read Project was born from a discovery of library ledgers containing circulation records from 1891-1902 that were uncovered during a renovation of the Muncie Public Library in 2003. Dr. Frank Felsenstein, Reed D. Voran Honors Distinguished Professor in Humanities and Professor of English at Ball State University, was in the Muncie Public Library preparing for a class on the history of the book when he discovered the treasure trove of ledgers and other documents and brought them to light. Out of that find came a collaboration between Ball State University and the Muncie Public library that led to development of the “What Middletown Read Database” (accessible at

Screen shot from the What Middletown Read database

The creation of this database has enabled researchers to take a deeper look into Muncie’s past and uncover a sense of the life and culture of the late 1800s based on what people were reading and who they were.  To discover more about this research tool, its creation, and the research results generated come Bracken Library, outside Room BL 210 at Ball State University to “check it out!” For more information on the exhibit, contact Archives and Special Collections at 765-285-5078 or email  

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