Zborays Publish Media Essay

Ron and Mary Zboray’s essay, “‘My Unsocial Habit’: Reading and Emergent Youth Subcultures in Civil War America,” has just come out in a volume edited by Pitt Department of Communication Alumna Christine Feldman-Barrett.  Her book is entitled Lost Histories of Youth Culture (New York: Peter Lang, 2015).  Its twelve essays by scholars from various disciplines explore youth cultures in different times and places: from the Extreme Metal underground in Japan, to gay rap subcultures in Iran, to cultures of youth fashion in Beijing.   One of these essays, “Lost Province of German Youth: Remembering East Prussia’s Last Generation,” is by Dr. Feldman-Barrett, who is a professor in the School of Humanities at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, and author of We Are the Mods, A Transnational History of a Youth Subculture (2009). The book is based upon her dissertation written under the direction of Professor Ronald J. Zboray.

The Zboray’s essay explores how young people during the American Civil War were at the cutting edge of transformations taking place in reading habits, the most dramatic of which was the change from group, oral reading to silent, solitary reading—the main form of reading practiced today.  As such the essay explores how the principal media of the era—printed literature—was used in everyday life by youth to navigate the disruptions brought about by war.  Reading fiction, travel literature, poetry, and biography in their private quarters helped young people to escape from the ubiquitous discussions of war, death, and patriotism around them.  Reading literature also allowed them to protest the war through a form of “passive resistance.” For African American and Mexican American youth in the Union, solitary reading provided a forum for negotiating their ethnic and racial identities during a time of intensifying nationalism.   

For more information on Dr. Barrett-Feldman, author of We Are the Mods

For more on her Lost Histories of Youth Culture