2021 Mellon Sawyer Seminars, UCR Internal Call for Proposals

Limited Submission

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has invited UCR to submit one application for consideration to the 2021 John E. Sawyer Seminars on the themes of social and racial justice. Interested faculty should submit preliminary proposals to the Center for Ideas and Society, which will host the internal review to select UCR’s 2021 Sawyer Seminar competition entry. Please do not contact the Mellon Foundation.

The Mellon Foundation’s Sawyer Seminars program was established in 1994 to provide support for comparative research on historical and contemporary topics of major scholarly significance. Competitive proposals will center and advance the humanities while keeping a strong focus on race, ethnicity, and related intersectional analyses. Projects may address the contemporary moment as well as examples from the past that fill in the gaps left by more traditional narratives about the history and culture of the Americas.

Internal preliminary proposals should clearly cite three humanities examples to be compared, as illustrative of the PIs approach. For example, for their winning 2014 “Alternative Futurisms” proposal Nalo Hopkinson and Sherryl Vint briefly compared examples of speculative fiction by Black, Latinx, and Indigenous authors, examining the authors’ various contexts, implications, and uses of the form.

Similarly, competitive proposals may compare example texts, artworks, histories, or phenomena across cultures to draw out larger truths. Mellon further suggests that comparative cases might include differences of regions, nations, time periods, geographic areas, cultural trends, or social tensions.  The following hypothetical examples are provided to help illustrate the wide range of formulations possible, from relatively simple comparisons to projects with multiple layers.

  • “Literatures of Resistance: Letters from Prison:” with example letters from Black, Native Americans and Muslim American activists across timespans.
  • “Native American Resilience,” examining three groups whose distinct histories may be further illuminated by looking at issues of narrative, language, and arts.
  • “Black Self-Determination,” including historical instances and figures from Africa and its diaspora who express the concept of self-determination, along with a discussion of historiography, which in turn necessitates the consideration of unorthodox materials as primary sources.

Clarity of explanation will be essential for complex projects.

Grant activities should be developed to encompass these comparative examples but should not be limited to them. The seminar structure, events, and invited postdocs should express the fullness of the PIs’ scholarly approach. Participants in the related social sciences may contribute to a rich understanding of the issue. However, a humanities approach should lead the project’s central questions and its consideration of “cases.”

Click the following tabs for more information on the program and submission procedures.

UCR faculty should submit preliminary proposals by midnight, March 15, 2021. Submissions are accepted via email with the subject line “Sawyer Seminar + proposal title” with PDF attachments of supporting documents.

Complete applications include:

A. Proposal narrative of up to 3 pages (single spaced, 12 pt. font) with the following components:

  • The names of the PI’s for the seminar with departments and/or affiliations.
  • An overview of the seminar project including: a) the area of inquiry/subject matter being proposed for study, b) the project’s thematic “threads”, c) the originality and significance of the central questions to be addressed.
  • A brief description of the three specific cases to be compared. How will this comparison yield new insights regarding the theme and central questions?
  • A brief statement regarding how this project: a) addresses social and racial justice; b) advances the centrality of the humanities.
  • An indication of why this “temporary think tank” is appropriate for UCR and how it develops and relates to UCR’s institutional needs and strengths. How could this project help develop needed areas of study or seed future projects in related disciplines?
  • A statement of the way the seminar will engage participants with diverse institutional and disciplinary affiliations. (Seminar participants may include faculty in outside disciplines including arts and professional schools.)
  • A statement of the seminar’s potential contributions to graduate education at UCR.
  • A statement that, if selected as UCR’s candidate, you agree to work on the full proposal according to the Timeline below in close consultation with UCR Senior Director of Foundation Development Cassie Riger and CHASS Contracts and contact CHASS Contract and Grant Analyst Linda Phi-Nguyen.

B. Outline of grant activities and structure up to 2 pages. (single spaced, 12 pt. font) As you draft the seminar outline, please note:

  • It is recommended that grant activities begin in fall of the 2022-23 academic year, with the 2021-22 academic year as a planning year.
  • Please reference the Budget Overview below as you complete this section.
  • Grant activities may follow the academic calendar and course structure but are free to diverge from this framework. (For example, the project may take a two-part structure, each including a speaker series and conference. It also may feature three credit bearing graduate courses following the regular academic schedule. Or it may feature some combination of the above.)

C. Attachments

  • 2-page CV’s of PI’s
  • A list of potential participants, guests and speakers.

Email submissions to CISevents@ucr.edu.

For questions:

A budget is not required for the first round of the limited submission. However, the following guidelines are important to bear in mind in project development.

The total project budget may not exceed $225,000.

Each seminar’s budget must provide for:

  1. a postdoctoral fellowship to be awarded for the year the seminar meets (UCR estimate- postdoc level 3, 12 months =$74,892;)
  2. two graduate student dissertation fellowships to be awarded for the seminar year or the year that follows. To acknowledge the sustained intellectual involvement of these graduate students in the seminar, institutions may include tuition support or, for those funded by existing fellowships, supplementary support such as research and travel funds. (UCR estimate- GSR level 4, 10 months, with GSHIP, fees =$63,209)

Travel and living expenses for short stays by visiting scholars and the costs of coordinating the seminar, including those incurred for speakers and their travel, may also be included.

Please note that the grant will not fund released time for regular faculty participants, rentals of university space, or indirect costs.


The UCR submission deadline is March 15, 2021. Proposals will be reviewed by the CIS Advisory Committee and the winning proposal announced no later than March 26, 2021.

PI’s of the selected proposal will then work to complete the final proposal following the timeline below, in close coordination Senior Director of Foundation Development Cassie Riger and CHASS Contract & Grant Analyst Linda Phi-Nguyen.

  • April 12, 2021- First draft of narrative proposal due
  • April 16, 2021- Preliminary budget and budget narratives due
  • April 19, 2021- Final revisions and all attachments complete
  • April 23, 2021- All edits complete and full grant submitted for UCR RED review and approval
  • May 3, 2021- Full proposal uploaded to Mellon grants submission portal

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation


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.

For questions regarding this limited submission application and review process, please contact Katharine Henshaw, katharine.henshaw@ucr.edu