November 26, 2013

Jim Connolly Presents "Middletown"

Contributed by Brenda Mackey 
Graduate Assistant, Research Publications
Sponsored Programs Office, Ball State University

Anyone familiar with Muncie’s nickname “Middletown” has heard that our town is emblematic of the American experience. The original Middletown studies, conducted in the 1920s, analyzed Muncie’s transition from a farming town to an industrial town. Since the close of the Borg Warner plant in 2009, Muncie has been experiencing another shift, deindustrializing and moving to a newly globalizing economy.

Prof. Jim Connolly, director of the Center for Middletown Studies and professor of history, spent the Spring 2013 semester in Germany as a guest professor. When he presented about Middletown, the groups of German academics most often wanted to know about the local response in Muncie to the studies. The response of Muncie residents varied from enthusiasm (“We represent America!”) to resentment (“I don’t want to be ‘average.’”). His German audiences told Connolly that the Middletown studies confirmed American stereotypes: white, protestant, individualistic and ignoring race. They also expressed surprise that the American government would allow a decline like the one Muncie is now experiencing to happen.

Muncie changed dramatically between 1890 and 1925, but not in the cultural sense. While technology changed daily life, the philosophy of the people of Muncie remained the same, placing high value on individualism, limited government and religion. Whether those values will persist through Muncie’s current transition remains to be seen.

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