Mary and Ronald Zboray Publish Essay in Public Address Volume

Mary Saracino Zboray, Visiting Scholar in Communication, and Ronald J. Zboray, Professor of Communication and Director of Pitt’s Cultural Studies Program, have just published their essay, “The Portable Lyceum in the Civil War,” in a volume edited by Angela Ray and Paul Stob. Entitled Thinking Together: Lecturing, Learning, and Difference in the Long Nineteenth Century (Penn State University Press, 2018), the volume is part of the press’s “Rhetoric and Democratic Deliberation” series.  Through its nine essays by scholars in Communication, English, History, Music, Rhetoric, and American Literature, it delineates an array of platform performers including early national women as entrepreneurial lecturers, black Liberian colonists as lyceum practitioners, a post-war era musician as lecture-recital pianist, and a Hindu monk as spokesperson for religious pluralism.  David Zarefsky has written of the volume: “Each essay displays exemplary scholarship; together they illumine a vital but often neglected dimension of nineteenth-century public culture.”  Susan Zaeske has also praised it: “...the volume vividly illustrates how distinct racial, ethnic, gender, and religious groups and individuals not only educated themselves but also constructed a sense of belonging while forging spiritual and political communities.”


The Zborays’ essay revises the predominant notion that during the Civil War the lyceum was either appropriated for wartime propaganda or withered away into irrelevancy.  Evidence in personal diaries and letters, lyceum publications, and prison newspapers, written by a diverse set of soldiers and civilians that includes African Americans and women, suggests that the lyceum was alive and well from 1861-1865, and that in the north and west, non-war related lectures predominated.  The lyceum’s vitality during the war was dependant on its being “portable,” a concept rather than a brick-and-mortar lecture hall, which could be instantiated in, and adapted to unpredictable and often dire circumstances.  For example, soldiers often created their own, improvised lyceums in camp tents, while prisoners of war gave lectures, engaged in debates, and fashioned handwritten newspapers for one another under the appalling conditions of military prisons.  Similarly, recuperating wounded soldiers and nurses cooperated to create lyceums in hospital wards.  “The Portable Lyceum” demonstrates that the most enduring, perhaps, of rhetorical institutions survived, and even thrived between 1861 and 1865 because Americans were loath to relinquish to wartime this collective forum of intellectual pursuit which had become so deeply ingrained in their everyday lives.                 


For more on the volume see: