Ron and Mary Zboray Publish Essay

Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray have just published an essay entitled “The Bonds of Print: Reading on Home Front and Battlefield” that looks at the many ways reading materials helped maintain ties between soldiers and civilians during the American Civil War, 1861-1865.  It is among nine other chapters included in Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion, edited by Matthew Mason, Katheryn P. Viens, and Conrad Edick Wright (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015).  Massachusetts, the Zborays contend, had  developed in the three decades prior to the war, a strong “socio-literary” culture characterized by reading aloud in group settings, the formation of literary societies, gifting of print matter, and informal book borrowing and lending from home libraries.  Massachusetts soldiers sent off to battle were reluctant to forego these experiences and strived to re-establish them through correspondence home.  They stuffed envelopes with newsclippings, original poems, or transcriptions from books, along with letters bearing instructions for loved ones to read the items.  Other combatants held virtual group-reading sessions by scheduling with civilians an appointed time each day in which all involved would read from the same book.  Those on the homefront obsessively scanned newspaper reports which were often the easiest, but not always most accurate means of learning about where a soldier was stationed, whether he was wounded or not, or if he had died.  Massachusetts civilians often read these reports forensically, piecing together scattered bits of information from diverse sources, to detect their loved one’s whereabouts.  This essay also explores the roles that African Americans played in sustaining socio-literary culture, especially as promoters of literacy among freedpeople in Union occupied areas of the Confederacy.  By tapping into personal papers—1,094 letters and 97 diaries authored by 123 men and women from 46 cities or towns in the Bay State, the Zborays have been able to recover a world of intimate meaning-making in which war-torn Massachusetts denizens candidly reveal their most desperate fears, earnest hopes, and deepest joys as expressed through engagements with print media during a time of unprecedented turbulence.

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