2023 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 2023 John E. Sawyer Seminars on the themes of social and racial justice. Interested faculty should submit preliminary proposals which will be reviewed by a committee of CHASS faculty to nominate a proposal for full development. 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. In 2021, a PI team led by Jody Benjamin developed the “Unarchiving Blackness” project to explore how archives of Black life—including documents, drawings, maps, material culture, photographs, and digital content—shape historical narratives of the past, impact the material conditions of African and African Diasporic people in the present, and create imaginative possibilities of vibrant Black life for the future.

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. Clarity of explanation will be essential for complex projects.

In the full proposal, 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

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. Sawyer Seminars are, in effect, temporary research centers.

Program Activities: 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.

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The UCR submission deadline for proposal nomination is February 13, 2023. Proposals will be reviewed by a committee of CHASS faculty and one nominee will be selected to complete a full proposal according to the timeline below, in close coordination Senior Director of Foundation Development Cassie Riger and CIS Grant & Finance Analyst Kathy Ann Hitchens.

  • February 13, 2023 – Proposal nominations due
  • February 17, 2023 – Nominee selected
  • March 6, 2023- First draft of narrative proposal due
  • March 20, 2023- Preliminary budget and budget narratives due
  • March 30, 2023- Final revisions and all attachments complete
  • April 4, 2023- All edits complete and full grant submitted for UCR RED review and approval
  • April 14, 2023- Full proposal uploaded by Kathy Hitchens to Mellon grants submission portal

UCR faculty should submit preliminary proposals nominations by 11:59 pm PST, February 13, 2023. Submissions are accepted via email to Katharine.Henshaw@ucr.edu with the subject line “Sawyer Seminar + proposal title” with PDF attachments of supporting documents.

Complete nominations include:

A. Preliminary 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 proposed seminar project including:
    • the area of inquiry/subject matter being proposed for study
    • the project’s thematic “threads”
    • the originality and significance of the central questions to be addressed
  • A brief description of the three specific “cases” of the topic to be compared. How will this comparison yield new insights regarding the theme and central questions?
  • A brief statement regarding how this project
    • addresses social and racial justice
    • proceeds from humanistic inquires and centers humanities disciplines
  • An indication of why this “temporary think tank” is appropriate for UCR and how it develops and relates to UCR’s specific 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 above in close consultation with UCR Senior Director of Foundation Development Cassie Riger and CIS Grant & Finance Analyst Kathy Ann Hitchens.

B. Attachments

  • 2-page CV’s of PI’s

For questions:
UCR application and review process: Katharine Henshaw, katharine.henshaw@ucr.edu.
Formulation of proposals: Cassie Riger, cassie.riger@ucr.edu.

A budget or schedule of activities are not required for the first round of the limited submission. However, the following parameters will guide the development of the full proposal.

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

Each seminar’s budget must provide for:

  • One postdoctoral fellowship to be awarded for the year the seminar meets
  • 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
  • Post-doctoral scholar and GSRs participate in seminar activities but are not tasked with program management or facilitation.

Additional expenses may include:

  • Salary support for CIS project coordinator to administer the project
  • Stipend for PI, Co-PIs, and/or collaborators for their work in the seminar
  • Supplementary support (e.g., research and travel funds) for students funded by existing fellowships
  • Travel and living expenses for short stays by visiting scholars
  • Costs of coordinating the seminar, including those incurred by speakers and their travel
  • Relocation expenses for postdoctoral candidate

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

The required grant start date is November 1, 2023, however the seminar need not start at the same time. Past experience suggests that it can take a year or more to organize the seminars so proposes are recommended to begin grant activities begin in fall of the 2024-25 academic year, with the 2023-23 academic year as a planning year. The total grant period may not exceed 36 months (3 years).

Sawyer Seminars are not intended to be organized as credit-bearing courses. However, while executing such a course during the grant term would not be allowed, it would be permissible for a syllabus to be developed based on the Seminar during the grant period, so long as the course itself is not taught until after the grant term has ended.

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