Zborays’ Project on U.S. Civil War Disability Awarded Third-Term Research Grant by the Dietrich School

Ronald J. Zboray, Professor of Communication and Director of the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies, has just been awarded by the Dietrich School Faculty Grants Committee, Type II Third-Term Research funds for “Disability, Visibility, and Viability: A Prosopography of Civil War Dual-Arm Amputees,” a project which forms the basis for a chapter in Ronald and Mary Zboray’s book manuscript-in-progress, “Armless in Civil War America: Disability, Visibility, Viability.”  The book is about the many ways that people with one type of severe disability—the lack of arms due either to  phocomelia, a birth disorder that affects the limbs, or the loss of both hands or arms—fashioned for themselves viable lives during an era when the ability to work or maintain ones’ independence defined the good citizen.  The project focuses on this type of disability because it was at the time, the one considered to be the most prohibitory to laboring.  Because of this, it was awarded the maximum pension rate during and after the war, a rate higher than that given to those who had other types of “double amputation.”  The focus also redresses the tendency in disability histories to overgeneralize disability, of which there are many diverse types, both visible and invisible, congenital and acquired, physical and cognitive, and to depersonalize it by neglecting to reconstruct the lived experiences of individuals.

This summer the Zborays will order and process the pension files housed at the National Archives Records Administration of those soldiers and seamen who lost both arms during the war mainly because of premature cannon explosions or enemy artillery fire.  These files will provide a wealth of biographical information that will aid in the recovery of these largely forgotten figures who led productive, creative, and independent lives after the war as shopkeepers, accountants, farmers, artists, lecturers, and Federal and state employees, who often supported families of their own, and who frequently lived into old age.