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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Sawyer Seminars 2020

To:Chairs and Administrators, Departments in the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences; Associate Deans for Research; College/School Research Administrators
From:Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research & Graduate Education
Date:February 14, 2020
Subject:John E. Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures


Deadline for Internal Review:April 06, 2020

Project Description

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has invited UW-Madison to submit one proposal for the John E. Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures. The Sawyer Seminars provide support for collaborative research on historical and contemporary topics of major scholarly significance by bringing 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.

Mellon Foundation support 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.

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 have largely come from the humanities and social sciences, although faculty members in the arts and from professional schools have also been key participants in a number of seminars. Seminar leaders are encouraged also to invite participants from nearby institutions, such as community colleges, liberal arts colleges, museums, research institutes, etc. As the Foundation reviews proposals, preference is given to those that include concrete plans for engaging participants with diverse affiliations.

Sawyer Seminar awards provide support for one postdoctoral fellow to be recruited through a national (or international) 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. Seminars are not expected to produce a written product, though many do.

Amount per Award: up to $225,000
Duration of Award: generally 1 year but possibly longer
Number of Awards: about 10 awards


The nomination will be chosen through an internal review process using the Mellon Foundation’s criteria, i.e.: 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.

In this round, the Mellon Foundation is giving priority 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 proposals selected by the Foundation may reflect these areas of study.


The link below provides additional information on the selection and award process, and a list of previously funded seminars.


UW-Madison is allowed to submit one nomination.


Internal Competition Application Instructions

Applications for Internal Review

To submit a preliminary proposal, attach a single PDF to an email to:

Applications are due no later than Monday, April 6, 2020.

The preliminary proposal should include the following three components in sequence (up to 12 single-spaced pages, about 6000 words):

  1. An executive summary (description of proposed work).
  2. A statement of the rationale for raising the central questions to be addressed and the potential significance of the inquiry to be pursued.
  3. A description of the cases to be studied (e.g., nations, regions, time periods, cultural trends, social tensions) and the perspectives to be brought to bear on them; the thematic “threads” that will run through the seminar; and the institution’s resources and suitability for the proposed seminar.


The preliminary proposal described above should be supplemented with the following information as an appendix. This appendix does not count towards the 12-page proposal limit.

  • The procedures to be used in selecting graduate and postdoctoral fellows.
  • 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.
  • A budget and budget narrative as informed by the budget guidance below.
  • Short CVs (1-2 pages) for the principal seminar organizers.  If other participants are identified, please limit information about them to a few lines of text, either within the proposal or as part of this appendix.



Funding requests should not exceed $225,000 for each seminar.  Each seminar’s budget must provide for a postdoctoral fellowship to be awarded for the year the seminar meets, and two graduate student dissertation fellowships 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 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. 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. Funds may not cover release time for regular faculty participants, rentals of university space, or indirect costs.

The OVCRGE will work with the nominee to submit the application to the Mellon Foundation.

Sponsor Deadlines

Applications are due to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by May 18, 2020.