Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe


21 May 2024

Daniele Salerno and Marit van de Warenburg win 2024 Zumkehr Prize

The 2024 Zumkehr Prize for Scholarship in Public Memory has been awarded to Daniele Salerno (Memorights) and Marit van de Warenburg (ReACT)  of Utrecht University in The Netherlands. They earn both a $2000 prize and an invitation to share their work in a lecture at Ohio University during the 2024-25 academic year.


The Zumkehr Prize, supported by the Charles E. Zumkehr Professorship in Communication Studies at Ohio University, was awarded to the best article—as adjudicated by a three-member international and interdisciplinary jury of scholars—published in 2023 on a topic related to the study of public memory. Salerno and Van de Warenburg’s article, “‘Bella ciao’:  A portable monument for transnational activism,” was published in the academic journal International Journal of Cultural Studies.


Salerno and Van de Warenburg’s research examined the adaptation of the Italian anti-fascist protest song, “Bella ciao,” by a variety of activist groups around the globe. Those groups, Salerno and Van de Warenburg discovered, engaged in a practice called contrafacta or the substitution of a song’s lyrics while keeping its musical characteristics intact. After tracing the song’s adaptations through decades of use in several nations, Salerno and Van de Warenburg detail its recent appropriation by feminist activists in Spain, Argentina, and Poland “to build their repertoire of protest against femicide and in favor of abortion rights.” The song, Salerno and Van de Warenburg argued, “is continuously rewritten, reused, and relocated in different and new contexts and media, and for a range of causes,” making it—as the title of their article notes—“a portable monument to transnational activism.”


As one of the competition judges noted, Salerno and Van de Warenburg’s article points out how, “as a portable and adjustable monument, ‘Bella Ciao’ transports the reader to the streets and squares where the struggle for freedom embraces the musical dimension of memory. This study invites scholars to think of globalized networks of memory making and the new ecologies where music mediates rhetorical maneuvers.”


The competition for this year’s prize, offered under the auspices of the Zumkehr Professorship, reflected the widespread international and interdisciplinary interest in the study of public memory. Scholars from 12 disciplines—working in eight nations—entered the contest.


Marit van de Warenburg did the research for this article while working as an intern in the ReAct project.