UC professor receives Book History prize for his work

Jeff Zalar recognized with international award for scholarship in Catholic book culture

By Adam Cline

Jeff Zalar, associate professor of History at the University of Cincinnati, has won the annual DeLong Book History Book Prize from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing.

The award was conferred last month for his recently published book Reading and Rebellion in Catholic Germany, 1770–1914 from Cambridge University Press. The society awards the prize to the author of "the best book on any aspect of the creation, dissemination or uses of script or print published in the previous year."

Zalar’s book is a “panoramic study of Catholic book culture in Germany from 1770 to 1914.” The work talks of a time period when Catholic readers disobeyed the book rules of their church. The disobedience caused many conflicts between the clergy and their church members and “helped usher in contemporary Catholicism.”

In its more than 360 pages, Zalar produces “a brilliant [and] sophisticated examination of the changing reading habits of Catholics over two centuries,” says Kevin Spicer of the Contemporary Church History Quarterly.

A&S associate professor of History Jeff Zalar

A&S associate professor of History Jeff Zalar

“Richly informed by archival research and set out in a detailed and compelling narrative, this book illuminates how a major reading community actually functioned during the efflorescence of popular print culture,” society judge Michael Hancher about the piece. He also said Zalar’s book “is a major contribution to book history and a model for future research.”

Zalar’s book was published by the Cambridge University Press. This publishing company is the oldest in the world and was founded by King Henry VIII. Zalar says when he learned they would publish his work he was “comprehensively humbled and delighted.”

Zalar has always been enthralled by history, books, and libraries. He is currently the inaugural holder of the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies. “I am fascinated by books: their texture and binding, the beauty of their script, the allure of reaching the horizons they project, the play they entice by engaging mind and soul, the opportunities they offer for respecting the knowledge of others and for honoring God, who creates human beings with active intellects that are meant to be used,” says Zalar.

Zalar expresses a “great deal of affection for libraries.” He used UC's libraries to complete some of his research for the book.

“When I needed a text that UC Libraries did not possess, librarians found it and delivered it to me. I also made ample use of our libraries’ research databases,” Zalar says. When he was an undergraduate student Zalar would often be in the library reading and “falling in love with books and the learning they contained.” He says this affection has not diminished over the years.

In his acknowledgments, Zalar thanked many UC professors, including Chris Phillips, Mark Raider, Sigrun Haude, Jay Twomey, Gila Safran-Naveh, and Willard Sunderland. Zalar sees all of these individuals as role models, and they all set standards for academic excellence he wants to reach.

Willard Sunderland, Henry R. Winkler Professor of Modern History, gave Zalar “essential advice” as his manuscript moved through the final stages of review. “Success in higher academics, as in many professions, requires cracking the codes of how things get done,” says Zalar. “Professor Sunderland cracked a code for me.”

Zalar says he is still in shock from receiving the award and the positive responses from his peers about the book. “I wanted to write a book that mattered. I wanted my peers to like it. But like all authors, I could never be certain that my hopes would be realized. … For their recognition of my work, I am sincerely grateful.”

Featured image at top: UC's iconic McMicken Hall. Photo/UC Creative Services.

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