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Ronald J. Zboray

  • Professor
  • Director of Graduate Studies


  • PhD, New York University


Professor of Communication; Director of Graduate Studies in Communication; Affiliate Faculty in Cultural Studies and Women’s Studies. 

With his collaborator, Mary Saracino Zboray, a visiting scholar at Pitt, Professor Zboray studies human communication through a biographical lens to understand how the past shapes the present and future.  By using first-person accounts like diaries or personal letters, they aim to capture the life experiences of largely disempowered and forgotten people confronting larger constellations of cultural, economic, political, and social power.   

Those themes are manifested in their recent work on disability. In their just-completed book manuscript, “Armless Entertainers in Early America,” the Zborays follow the paths of about twenty performers born without arms or hands, who forged careers as entertainers in pre-Civil War United States. Another, related project, “Armless in Civil War America,” focuses on acquired disability, especially from battlefield trauma. The Zborays previewed this research in “Recovering Disabled Veterans in Civil War Newspapers: Creating Heroic Disability,” published in Journalism History in 2019, which won the 2020 Michael S. Sweeny Prize of Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s (AEJMC) History Division. 

Complementing the Zborays’ work on early American disability, they have investigated person-centered engagement with media during the Civil War, an area of research funded with a full-year fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2012.  The Zborays ask the fundamental question of what did the printed word mean for Civil War Americans?  They ventured some answers to that question in a series of six essays and articles on mediated youth cultures, battlefield and homefront reading, print dissemination beyond cities, changes in lyceum practices, books as soldiers’ protective shields, and newsboys as a wartime communication phenomenon. The “book-as-shield” essay represents a book manuscript near completion, “The Bullet in the Book: Volumes that Saved Civil War Soldiers’ Lives.” In it, the Zborays trace a few survivors’ biographies before, during, and after each fateful encounter between print and projectile.  

The panoramic approach taken in this work on the intersections of print media production, its dissemination or distribution, its reception, and its manifold interactions with society and culture is instantiated in the Zborays’ 2019 volume, US Popular Print Culture to 1860, volume 5 of The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, to which they contributed essays on the book trades, reading, and women writers and readers. The biographical approach makes it appearance there and in the Zborays’ Everyday Ideas: Socioliterary Experience Among Antebellum New Englanders (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006) and Literary Dollars and Social Sense: A People’s History of the Mass Market Book (New York: Routledge, 2005). Everyday Ideas won book prizes from AEJMC’s History Division’s 2006 and from the International Reading Association. Both books build on the foundation laid by Dr. Zboray in his A Fictive People: Antebellum Economic Development and the American Reading Public (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).  In recognition of their achievements in this area of study, the Library of Congress asked the Zborays to prepare A Handbook for the Study of Book History in the United States (2000). 

Alongside print culture studies, the Zborays have also published work in women’s studies in communication. In Voices without Votes: Women and Politics in Antebellum New England (Lebanon, N.H.: the University Press of New England, 2010)—winner of the Everett Lee Hunt Award of the Eastern Communication Association—they redress the misconception that women before the Civil War were consigned to a private “sphere” separate from mainstream party politics. Their “Political News and Female Readership in Antebellum Boston and Its Region,” Journalism History 22 (Spring 1996) won the AEJMC History Division’s Cathy Covert Prize. A related paper won the 2010 Wrage-Baskerville Prize awarded by the National Communication Association’s Public Address Division for best contributed paper.  

Professor Zboray’s teaching naturally aligns with these lines of research but range far beyond early America.  On the undergraduate level, he teaches a course on the history of mass media and recently turned it into an asynchronous, all-online class that relies of 45 custom-made documentary video films. On the graduate level he worked with Mary Saracino Zboray to take their interest in first-person sources as a platform for developing graduate seminars in oral history, a methodology that has become a hallmark of the department’s student research. Other graduate seminars have included offerings on the #MeToo movement, disability and culture, visual cultures of social difference, and media audiences. He has also taught the department’s graduate teaching practicum. 

Dr. Zboray has advised twenty doctoral students working in culture, media, rhetoric, and communication, especially on international, gender, and race topics, both in the contemporary world and in the past.  His PhD advisees have landed tenure-track positions at Baruch College, Bethany College, Bunker Hill Community College, Denison University, Ithaca College, Central Michigan University, Griffith University (Australia), Pennsylvania State University Mont Alto, at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, St. John’s University, the Monterey Defense Language Institute, the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, and Utah State University. 

Online Publications

  • “A Conversation with Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray,” Vibrant Voices of Public Address 1, no. 1 (Jan. 2012), sponsored by the Public Address Division of the National Communication Association, co-published with the American Antiquarian Society’s blog, Past is Present (Jan. 27, 2012)


Articles and Essays

  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “The ‘Sound of an ‘Extra’: Representing Civil War Newsboys by Pen and in Print,” American Journalism 36.3 (Fall 2019): 348-70. 
  •  Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Between Hamburg and Boston: Frederick Gleason and the Rise of Serial Fiction in the United States,” Nineteenth-Century Serial Narrative in Transnational Perspective: Popular Culture, Serial Culture, ed. Professor Daniel Stein and Lisanna Wiele (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 117-43. 
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Recovering Disabled Veterans in Civil War Newspapers: Creating Heroic Disability,” Journalism History 45.1 (April 2019), 1-23. 
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, Essays in their edited U.S. Popular Print Culture to 1860 (2019): “Introduction” (1-22); “Print Production and Booktrades” (27-43); “Readers” (61-78); and “Women Writers and Readers” (642-56). 
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “‘Saved by a Testament’: Books as Shields among Union and Confederate Soldiers,” in War Matters: Material Culture in the Civil War Era, ed. Joan Cashin (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018), 75-98. 
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “The Portable Lyceum in the Civil War,” lead essay in Thinking Together: Lecturing, Learning, and Difference in the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Angela G. Ray and Paul Stob for the Rhetoric and Public Deliberation Book Series (University Park: Penn State Press, 2018), 23-40, 206-12. 
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Beyond the Market and the City: The Informal Dissemination of Reading Materials during the American Civil War,” in Print Culture Histories Beyond the Metropolis, ed. James Connolly, Patrick Collier, Frank Felsenstein, Kenneth Hall, Robert Hall (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016), 123-49. 
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “The Bonds of Print: Reading on Homefront and Battlefield,” in Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion, ed. Conrad Edick Wright (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015), 195-223. 
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “‘My Unsocial Habit’: Reading and Emergent Youth Subcultures in Civil War America,” in Lost Histories of Youth Culture, ed. Christine Feldman-Barrett (New York: Peter Lang, 2015), 17-34. 
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Women Thinking: The International Popular Lecture in Antebellum New England and Its Audience,” in The Cosmopolitan Lyceum: Globalism and Lecture Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, ed. Tom F. Wright (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, in press for 2014).
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Print Culture,”in Handbook of Communication History, ed. Peter Simonson, Janice Peck, Robert T. Craig, and John P Jackson (New York: Routledge, 2013), 181-195.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “History of the Book,” in Media History and the Foundations of Media Studies, ed. John C. Nerone, a volume in the International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, ed. Angharad Valdivia (New York: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 167-93.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “The History of the Book that Never Quite Took–Or Did It?: Perspectives from Communication History,” in Communication@the Center, ed. Steve Jones (Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press for the International Communication Association, April 2012.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “The Novel in the Antebellum Book Market,” in Cambridge History of the American Novel, ed. Leonard Cassuto, Clare Eby, and Benjamin Reiss (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 67-87.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Changing Methods of Publishing” in U.S. Popular Print Culture, 1860-1920, ed. Christine Bold, a volume in The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, ed. Gary Kelly, 9 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 23-42.  An earlier version of the piece was designated top paper in the Media Ecology Association Division of the National Communication Association (2009).
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Nineteenth-Century Print Culture,”  in The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, ed. Joel Myerson, Sandy Harbert Petrulionis, and Laura Dassow Walls (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 102-14.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Is it a Diary, Commonplace Book, Scrapbook, or Whatchamacallit?: Six Years of Exploration in New England’s Manuscript Archives,” in “Papers from the Third International Conference on the History of Records and Archives,” ed. Barbara Craig, Philip B. Eppard, Heather MacNeil, and Brenda Lawson,  Libraries and the Cultural Record 44:1 (Feb. 2009): 101-23.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray,  “Media and War,” Encyclopedia of War and American Society, 3 vols., ed. Peter Karsten (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2006), 2: 468-77.  Volume is winner of the 2007 Distinguished Book Award of the American Society for Military History.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Between ‘Crockery-dom’ and Barnum: Boston’s Chinese Museum, 1845-1847.” American Quarterly, 56(2) June 2004, 271-307.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Cannonballs and Books: Reading and the Disruption of Social Ties on the New England Homefront.” In The War Was You and Me: Civilians in the American Civil War, ed. Joan Cashin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002, 237-261.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Home Libraries and the Institutionalization of Everyday Practice in Antebellum New England.” American Studies, Special Issue on Culture and Libraries, 42 (3 (Fall 2001), 63-86. Reprinted in Libraries as Agencies of Culture, ed. Thomas Augst and Wayne Wiegand. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002, 63-86.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Gender Slurs in Boston's Partisan Press During the 1840s.” Journal of American Studies, 34(December 2000), 413-45.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Transcendentalism in Print: Production, Dissemination, and Common Reception.” In Transient and Permanent: The Transcendentalist Movement and Its Contexts, ed. Charles Capper and Conrad Edick Wright. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1999, 310-81.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “The Mysteries of New England: Eugene Sue’s ‘Imitators,’ 1844,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 22 (September 2000), 457-92..
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “The Romance of Fisherwomen in Antebellum New England.” American Studies, 39(Spring 1998), 5-30.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “The Boston Book Trades, 1789-1850: A Statistical and Geographical Analysis.” In Entrepreneurs: The Boston Business Community, 1700-1850, ed. Conrad Edick Wright and Katheryn P. Viens. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1997, 210-67.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Reading and Everyday Life in Antebellum Boston: The Diary of Daniel F. and Mary G. Child.” Libraries and Culture, 32(Summer 1997), 285-323.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Whig Women, Politics, and Culture in the Campaign of 1840: Three Perspectives from Massachusetts.” Journal of the Early Republic, 17(Summer 1997), 279-314.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Have You Read...?: Real Readers and Their Responses in Antebellum Boston and Its Region." Nineteenth-Century Literature, 52(September 1997), 139-170.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Political News and Female Readership in Antebellum Boston and Its Region,” Journalism History, 22(Spring 1996), 2-14.
  • Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray, “Books, Reading, and the World of Goods in Antebellum New England.” American Quarterly, 48(December 1996), 587-622.
  • Ronald J. Zboray, “Technology and the Character of Community Life in Antebellum America: The Role of Story Papers.” In Communication and Change in American Religious History, ed. Leonard I. Sweet. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1993, 185-215.
  • Candace Falk, Ronald J. Zboray, Alice Hall, and others, eds., The Emma Goldman Papers[70 reels]. Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, Inc., 1990; Guide, 1995.
  • Ronald J. Zboray, “Antebellum Reading and the Ironies of Technological Innovation.” American Quarterly (special issue titled, "Reading America"), 40 (1988), 65-82.
  • Ronald J. Zboray, "The Transportation Revolution and Antebellum Book Distribution Reconsidered," American Quarterly, 38 (1986), 53-71.
  • Ronald J. Zboray, “The Railroad, the Community, and the Book,” Southwest Review, 71 (1986), 474-487.
  • Ronald J. Zboray, “The Real and the Realistic in Down to the Sea in Ships.” Film and History, 10 (1980), 49-54.


  • September 10, 2020 - 1:00pm: 4th Annual Student Symposium: Studies in Creativity

Courses Taught

  • History of Mass Media (COMMRC 1121)
  • Special Topics in Mass Communication (COMMRC 1732)
    • Print Culture in a Digital Age
    • Advertising Cultures, Past and Present
    • Women, Media, and the World
  • Graduate Seminar in Audience and Reception History (COMMRC 2035)
  • Graduate Seminar in Media and Cultural Studies (COMMRC 2226): Food, Media, and Culture
  • Graduate Seminar, Voices of Remembrance: Oral History Theory, Methods, and Interpretation (COMMRC 2040)
  • Graduate Seminar in Mass Media (COMMRC 3326):
    • Audiences and Social Difference
    • Reconstructing Audiences
    • From Orality to Print
    • Print, Film, Radio, and TV Audiences
    • Print, Film, Radio, TV, and the Oral History Interview
    • Visualizing Race, Class, and Gender
    • Visualizing Race, Class, and Gender in the City
    • Visualizing Race, Class, and Gender in the World
    • War, Media, and Remembrance
    • #MeToo–Women, Media, and Voice
    • Disability, Media, and Culture
    • Voicing Popular Cultures
  • Graduate Teaching Practicum (COMMRC 3384)