3 PhD Positions in the project Remembering Activism| The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe (ReAct) (deadline 1 November 2018)

The project Remembering Activism: The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe is set to run at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, in the period 2019-2024. The project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and will be conducted at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON). Principal Investigator is Prof. Ann Rigney.

Mass demonstrations are newsworthy. But how are they remembered when they are no longer news? Social movements are usually studied in terms of their emergence and subsidence. Despite recognition that activists are ‘inspired’ by precedents, the afterlife of activism in story and image has never been systematically explored. ReAct claims that knowledge of this cultural memory is needed for a full understanding civil resistance.

The project will provide the first in-depth account of the remembering and forgetting of activism in Europe since the late 19th century. It will reveal continuities and changes in how protest has been depicted in different media regimes; demonstrate the role of texts, images, and commemorative practices in conveying the memory of protest to later generations; and show how this memory feeds back into later movements at home and abroad.

The project is designed around case studies from periods of heightened activism in Europe: 1871-1914; 1960-1970; 2011-2012. The different subprojects follow 3 intersecting lines of inquiry: mediation (what cultural frames have been used to turn activism into transferable knowledge?); afterlives (how has the memory of particular movements been culturally transmitted?); memoryscapes (how have later movements referenced earlier ones?).

ReAct effects a reorientation in cultural memory research: by developing analytic tools with which to capture the cultural transmission of hope, it aims to provide an alternative to the trauma-based models that currently dominate the field of cultural memory research. It will also open up a new area of social movement research by revealing hitherto neglected traditions of civic memory and how the latter is culturally produced. Outside of the academy, ReAct aims to provide critical literacies with which to rethink collective memory and identity in terms of active citizenship rather than ethnic-national grievances.

ReAct has openings for 3 PhD researchers. Appointments will start preferably on 1 February 2019 and by 1 June 2019 at the latest.

PhD project 1: Remembering women activists

This project will involve a long-term comparative study of the cultural memory of a select number of women activists from the period 1850-1914. The aims of the project are to: describe how particular figures from the period c.1850-1914 have been remembered or gradually forgotten over time; account for the role played by different media and cultural practice in this process (biographies, memoirs, documentaries, novels, movies, theatre, memorials, images); uncover the changing factors, especially changing notions of gender, that have underpinned these dynamics of remembering and forgetting; identify the cultural constituents of heroism in relation to the structural tension between democratic egalitarianism and the idea of exceptional individuals. Among the figures that could be studied are the anarchist Louise Michel (1830-1905), active in the Commune and later in the anti-colonial movement, the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and her daughter Sylvia (1882-1960). Applications are sought in the first instance for a comparative study of these figures, but consideration will be given to candidates who propose alternatives as long as they are committed to the overall aim of the subproject. 

Phd 2: Remembering Protest in the 1960s

In the 1960s there were at least 11 public self-immolations in Communist Eastern Europe and 5 in the US as part of protests against the war in Vietnam. This project will study how this form of protest spread transnationally, how it was remembered in later decades in different media, and examine how the memory of self-immolation related to the transfer of hope. The case of Czech student Jan Palach will be central to the project, but it is expected to include other cases from a transnational perspective. The remembrance of Palach will be compared to with that of his (less widely known) Czech, Polish, East-German, Lithuanian, and US contemporaries, and to that of the Vietnamese monk Thích Quang Dúc, the image of whose self-immolation in 1963 had been widely circulated in East and West. The successful candidate will be expected to have a reading knowledge of Czech, as well as of at least one other relevant language besides English.

Phd 3: Memoryscapes of M-15 (2011)

This project aims to map the memoryscape of a recent protest movement and explain its role in civic mobilisation. The aim is: (1) to establish its points of reference in the recent and distant past; (2) show how local and national references are intertwined; (2) develop methods for mapping memoryscapes in a digital media ecology; (3) explain the role of memory in the conduct of protest. The focus will be on the anti-austerity 15-M or “Indignados” movement in Spain, a key location in the wave of networked protests affecting Europe, the US, and the Middle East in 2011-2013.

Your tasks as PhD candidates will include:

  • completion and defense of a PhD thesis within four years; regular presentation of intermediate research results at workshops and conferences;
  • publication of at least two articles in journals or edited volumes;
  • co-organisation of project workshops and conferences;
  • participation in all project-related activities, including outreach activities;
  • participation, where relevant, in the training programmes offered by the UU Graduate School of Humanities, the National Research Schools, and the Mnemonics network.



      • a (soon to be completed) (research) MA degree in a relevant discipline (a.o. Literary and Cultural Studies, Cultural History, Cultural Anthropology);
      • an excellent academic track record;
      • demonstrable affinity with cultural memory studies and/or social movement studies;
      • skills in searching archives as well as in interpreting cultural artefacts and practices;
      • excellent English, academic writing and presentation skills;
      • ability to read primary source materials in the languages relevant to the particular subproject;
      • ability to meet deadlines and work both as an independent researcher and as a team member;
      • good organisational, social and communication skills.

Conditions of employment

The three PhD positions are offered at 90%. Appointments start preferably on 1 February 2019 and by 1 June 2019 at the latest. Appointments will be initially for a period of 18 months. Upon a positive evaluation, the contract will be extended for the remaining period of 30 months (4 years in total). The gross monthly salary (based on 90%) starts at €2,039 in the first year, and ends at €2,607 in the fourth year (scale P Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities).

Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and an end-of-the-year allowance of 8.3% per year. In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions. You will find here more information about working at Utrecht University.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

The Faculty of Humanities has around 6,000 students and 900 staff members. It is made up of four departments: Philosophy and Religious Studies, History and Art History, Media and Culture Studies, and Languages, Literature, and Communication. Enthusiastic and committed faculty members and excellent amenities in the historical city centre of Utrecht, where the faculty is housed, make for an inspiring working environment.

Members of the ReAct team will be attached to the Research Institute for Cultural Inquiry (ICON) and to the Department of Languages, Literature, and Communication (TLC).

Additional information

For additional information, please contact Prof. A. Rigney.
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