Research Programs: Collaborative Research

Period of Performance

7/1/2009 - 6/30/2011

Funding Totals

$160,000.00 (approved)
$160,000.00 (awarded)

What Middletown Read: Print Culture and Cosmopolitanism in an American City

FAIN: RZ-51013-09

Ball State University (Muncie, IN 47306-1022)
James John Connolly (Project Director: November 2008 to March 2012)

Preparation for the publication of a scholarly study, "What Middletown Reads;" and the creation of a freely accessible digital database of library records from the Muncie, Indiana public library.

"What Middletown Read: Print Culture and Cosmopolitanism in an American Small City" uses a recently discovered cache of library records as the basis for a historical and social study of reading behavior in an industrializing community of the late nineteenth century. The surviving documents record the individual books each borrower took from the local public library in Muncie, Indiana - the city featured in the famed "Middletown" sociological studies - for most of the period between 1891 and 1902. Historians of print culture in the U.S. have long sought this sort of first-hand evidence of reading behavior among ordinary people. The directors of the "What Middletown Read" project propose to capitalize on this discovery in two ways. They will write a book exploring print culture in Muncie, Indiana during the 1890s and they will construct a digital database derived from these records and make it freely available online to the public.

Media Coverage

What Muncie REad (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Anne Trubek
Publication: New York Times
Date: 11/23/2011
Abstract: An essay about the What Middletown Read database.

This Book is 119 Years Overdue (Media Coverage)
Author(s): John Plotz
Publication: Slate
Date: 11/17/2011
Abstract: An essay about the What Middletown Read Database

Associated Products

What Middletown Read (Web Resource)
Title: What Middletown Read
Author: James Connolly
Abstract: "What Middletown Read" is a database and search engine built upon the circulation records of the Muncie (Indiana) Public Library from November 5, 1891 through December 3, 1902. It documents every book that every library patron borrowed during that period, with the exception of one gap from May 28, 1892 to November 5, 1894.
Year: 2015
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Project website

What Middletown Read: Print Culture in an American Small City (Book)
Title: What Middletown Read: Print Culture in an American Small City
Author: James J. Connolly
Author: Frank Felsenstein
Abstract: The discovery of a large cache of circulation records from the Muncie, Indiana, Public Library in 2003 offers a great amount of new detail about American reading behavior at the turn of the twentieth century. This is an in-depth account of print culture in Muncie, the city featured in the famed “Middletown” studies conducted by Robert and Helen Lynd almost a century ago. Using the data assembled and made public through the What Middletown Read Database (, the authors analyze the borrowing choices and reading culture of social groups and individuals. The authors also dig into diaries, meeting minutes, newspaper reports, and local histories to trace the library’s development in relation to the city’s cosmopolitan aspirations, to profile individual readers, and to explore such topics as the relationship between children’s reading and their schooling and what books were discussed by local women’s clubs. The authors situate borrowing patterns and reading behavior within the contexts of a rapidly growing, culturally ambitious emblematic small American city, an evolving public library, an expanding market for print, and the broad social changes that accompanied industrialization in the United States.
Year: 2015
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: WorldCat listing
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Publisher's listing
Access Model: Book
Publisher: Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press
Type: Multi-author monograph
ISBN: 9781625341419
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes