Ronald and Mary Zboray win AEJMC History Division's Sweeney Award for their Recent Article on the Rhetoric of Disability and the Civil War



Ronald Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray have won the third annual Michael S. Sweeney Award for their article, “Recovering Disabled Veterans in Civil War Newspapers: Creating Heroic Disability.”


Named for former Journalism History editor Mike Sweeney, the award recognizes the outstanding article published in the previous volume of the scholarly journal Journalism History.


Zboray and Zboray will receive a plaque and cash prize during the History Division’s Awards Gala Aug. 7 during the virtual Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference. Both are affiliated with the Department of Communication at the University of Pittsburgh.


Published in the March 2019 issue, their winning article recovers the largely untold story of newspaper coverage of disabled veterans during the American Civil War, through the case of Massachusetts Sgt. Thomas Plunkett, who lost both arms in December 1862 at Fredericksburg, Virginia.


They argue that Northern newspaper editors’ desire to make Plunkett a symbol of the Union cause led them to create the persona of the Armless Hero, a then-singular construction in the divided nation. In so doing, they forged a new discourse of heroic disability scarcely seen in prior coverage. That new discourse, through its eventual application to similarly disabled veterans, altered newspapers’ representations of disability in the war’s remaining years and afterward.


The History Division’s Publications Committee selected the article from among four finalists provided by Journalism History Editor Gregory Borchard. Publications Committee Chair Therese Lueck said the study provides a compelling argument for the influential press construction of heroic disability. Other judges called the article “a work of great importance and profound insight” and “an absorbing article that breaks new ground.” The authors were commended “for writing a history about news coverage of an often-overlooked and sensitive topic such as disability.”