The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
JOHN E. SAWYER SEMINARS ON THE COMPARATIVE STUDY OF CULTURES
Purpose: The Mellon Foundation’s Sawyer Seminars program was established in 1994 to provide support for collaborative research on historical and contemporary topics of major scholarly significance. The seminars, named in honor of the Foundation’s longserving third president, John E. Sawyer, bring together faculty, foreign visitors, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students from a variety of fields—mainly, but not exclusively, in the arts, humanities, and interpretive social sciences—for intensive study of subjects chosen by the participants. This program aims to engage productive scholars in multi-disciplinary and comparative inquiry that would in ordinary university circumstances be difficult to pursue, while at the same time avoiding the institutionalization of such work in new centers, departments, or programs.
Program Activities: To date, 220 seminars have been funded. Their subjects, which have ranged widely, can be viewed on Mellon’s website.
The maximum grant award for each Sawyer Seminar is $225,000. Each seminar normally meets for one year, though some have continued for longer periods. To allow for planning, seminars need not be scheduled for the coming academic year. Faculty participants largely come from the humanities and interpretive social sciences, although some of the most successful and provocative seminars have also drawn on faculty in the arts and in professional schools. Seminar leaders are encouraged to invite participants from nearby institutions, such as community colleges, liberal arts colleges, museums, research institutes, etc. As the Foundation reviews proposals, preference will be given to those that include concrete plans for engaging participants with diverse institutional and disciplinary affiliations.
Sawyer Seminar awards provide support for one postdoctoral fellow to be recruited through a national competition, and for the dissertation research of two graduate students. It is expected that the graduate students will be active participants in the intellectual life of the seminar. The seminars’ contribution to graduate education in the humanities and social sciences will be carefully considered even though they are not intended to be organized as official credit-bearing courses. Seminars are not expected to produce a written product, though many do.
Selection Criteria: Proposals are judged on the significance of the subject of inquiry, the aptness of plans for seminar meetings, the opportunities they present for comparative study, the rationale for the comparisons, and the scholarly accomplishments of the participants. As you consider seminar topics it is important that you bear in mind the mission of the Higher Learning program at Mellon. The Foundation is now fundamentally interested in the themes of social and racial justice. In terms of scholarly projects such as the Sawyer Seminars we will look for a strong focus on race and ethnicity and related intersectional analyses as well as those that focus on filling in the gaps left by more traditional narratives about the history and culture of the Americas.