Mary and Ronald Zboray Publish Essay on Book Shields, in Volume on Material Culture of the U.S. Civil War.

Ronald and Mary Zboray’s essay, “Saved By a Testament: Books as Shields Among Union and Confederate Soldiers,” has just come out in the volume, War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era, edited by the prominent Civil War historian, Joan E. Cashin, and published by University of North Carolina Press.  The volume contains ten essays that together cover a range of topics: the roles Revolutionary War relics played during the Civil War; nature, landscapes, and the environment at Antietam National Battlefield; soldiers’ emotional and perceptual relationships to their weapons; the meaning of trophies during the war’s aftermath; medical knowledge reflected through vaccine virus as artifact; weaponry related to abolitionist John Brown; the politicized transformation of food and other household goods in wartime; the material culture of African American refugee camps; and artifactual agency regarding Jefferson Davis’s defeat. 

The Zboray’s essay is an examination of the way one medium, the printed book, was used to shield soldiers against bullets.  The Zborays traced the practice of pocketing small books as a kind of protective armor to the English Civil Wars (1642-1651) and found that it continued in later European and American wars.  It reached its height during the U.S. Civil War because of its unprecedented expenditure of ammunition on the battlefield.  The essay explores the high value contemporaries placed upon pocket-sized books that they hoped would protect their loved ones, reconstructs the rituals of gifting associated with supplying pocket bibles to soldiers, examines soldiers’ emotional relationship to their books, and analyzes the rhetoric of wonder and divine providence that newspaper editors fashioned to report on instances of book shields’ actually saving lives.  The Zborays argue for deeper research into the genealogy of these bullethole- ridden book shields that are often displayed in museums and archives as merely amusing and freakish artifacts devoid of the symbolic, religious, cultural, and personal meanings users once ascribed to them.    

War Matters has already been praised as “An excellent volume produced by a who’s who of stars in the field of Civil War history,” that promises to “change the way we think about wartime experiences.”  For these reviews and more on this collection of essays, see