(CLOSED) Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Sawyer Seminar - 2020

Sponsor Name: 
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Description of the Award: 

he Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Penn State has been invited by Mellon Foundation to submit a proposal to host a John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures. The Mellon Foundation's Sawyer Seminars were established in 1994 to provide support for comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments. The seminars, named in honor of the Foundation's long-serving third president, John E. Sawyer, have brought 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.

Foundation support aims to engage productive scholars in 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. In this round, priority will be given to applications that manifest:

  1. a strong focus on issues of race, ethnicity, and migration, or
  2. a focus on filling in the gaps left by more traditional narratives in the history of the Americas.

Up to half of the selected proposals may reflect these areas of study. A more detailed description of the program’s aims, structure, budgetary guidelines, and selection procedures is available on the Foundation’s website.

Proposals should describe:

  1. the originality and significance of the central questions to be addressed;
  2. the cases to be compared (e.g., nations, regions, social aggregates, time periods) and the rationale for the comparisons that are selected;
  3. the thematic "threads" that will run through the seminar;
  4. the institution's resources and suitability for the proposed seminar; and
  5. the procedures to be used in selecting graduate and postdoctoral fellows.

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 on the scholarly accomplishments of the participants. Penn State has been a previous recipient of Sawyer awards, please click here to learn more.

Program Activities: To date, 203 seminars have been funded. Their subjects, which have ranged widely, can be viewed on the A.W. Mellon website.

The maximum grant award for each Sawyer Seminar is $225,000 (see budget section below for further details). Each seminar normally meets for one year (though some have continued for longer periods). Faculty participants have 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. 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 seminars. The seminars' contributions 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. There is no requirement that they produce a written product, though many do.

Selection and Award Process: Institutions are to decide through an internal downselect process which proposals they will submit to the Foundation for consideration. Questions concerning this Penn State limited submissions process may be submitted to limitedsubs@psu.edu.

Texts of proposals covering the five components listed above typically range from 3,000 to 6,000 words and must not exceed 8,000 words. Additionally, proposals should be supplemented by three appendices: (1) a budget (using the Mellon Budget and Financial Report template); (2) a well-developed preliminary plan for the seminar that outlines the specific topics to be addressed in each session and provides the names and qualifications of the scholars who would ideally participate; (3) short CVs (1-2 pages) for the principal seminar organizers (if other participants are identified, the organizers are asked to limit information about them to a few lines of text).

Budget: Funding requests should not exceed $225,000 for each seminar. It is expected that each seminar’s budget will provide for a postdoctoral fellowship to be awarded for the year the seminar meets, and two dissertation fellowships for graduate students to be awarded for the seminar year or the year that follows. The amounts for postdoctoral fellowship awards and dissertation fellowship stipends should follow institutional practices. To acknowledge the sustained intellectual involvement of those 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. 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. The grants may not, however, be used for the costs of release time for regular faculty participants, or for indirect costs.

We anticipate that appropriations for the Sawyer Seminar program will be considered by the Foundation's Trustees in September 2020. This means that final proposals for seminars must reach the Foundation by May 4, 2020 so that the selection panel may review them and make recommendations well in advance of the meeting of the Trustees. This schedule allows revisions to be made should the panel request them. Past experience suggests that it can take a year or more to organize the seminars. They need not be scheduled for the coming academic year.

University Development is the designated institutional contact responsible for communicating with the Foundation, and the Office of Foundation Relations is collaborating with Limited Submissions on the internal downselect process.

Limit (Number of applicants permitted per institution): 
Sponsor Final Deadline: 
May 04, 2020
OVPR Application or NOI Instructions: 

Internal Nomination Process:

Interested applicants should send the following documents in sequence in one PDF file (File name: Last name_SawyerSeries_2020) no later than 4:00 p.m. on the internal submission deadline:

Cover Page:
Principal Series organizers' names and departmental affiliation
Co-PI's names and departmental affiliation(s)
A list of possible participating organizations, if applicable
Proposal Title

Project Description (no more than two pages):
Preliminary plan for the seminar that outlines the specific topics to be addressed in each session and provides the names and qualifications of the scholars who would ideally participate

1-2 page CVs for principal series organizers

Formatting Guidelines:
Font/size: Times New Roman (12 pt.)
Document margins: 1.0” (top, bottom, left and right)
Standard paper size (8 ½” x 11)

University Development is the designated institutional contact responsible for communicating with the Foundation, and the Office of Foundation Relations is collaborating with Limited Submissions on the internal downselect process.

To be considered as a Penn State institutional nominee, please submit a notice of intent by the date provided directly below.
This limited submission is in downselect: 
Penn State may only submit a specific number of proposals to this funding opportunity. The number of NOIs received require that an internal competition take place, thus, a downselect process has commenced. No Penn State researchers may apply to this opportunity outside of this downselect process. To apply for this limited submission, please use this link:
OVPR Downselect Deadline: 
Monday, March 2, 2020 - 4:00pm
Elizabeth Mansfield (A&A)