Andrew W. Mellon Sawyer Seminar

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 long-serving 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. The maximum grant award for each Sawyer seminar is $225,000. 

The Foundation is now fundamentally interested in the themes of social and racial justice. In terms of scholarly projects such as the Sawyer Seminars, Mellon 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. A more detailed description of the program’s aims, structure, budgetary guidelines, and selection procedures is appended and available on Mellon's website.

Overview

The University of Iowa is honored to be invited to nominate a team for a third Andrew W. Mellon Sawyer Seminar, a tribute to the ground-breaking work by the leaders of earlier seminars. The Obermann Center will be supporting the Office of the Vice President for Research and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences by providing potential applicants with information and advice based on our work in supporting the earlier teams. 

To quote from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation website: "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."

The funding for the yearlong seminar supports a postdoctoral fellow, two graduate fellowships, and a year of activities. The seminar is open to UI faculty and graduate students. The Foundation also encourages the inclusion of colleagues from other institutions and organizations, such as nearby universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, museums, and research centers. Proposals that draw upon the expertise of scholars to further equity, inclusion, and social justice are especially welcome: "As the Foundation reviews proposals, preference is given to those that include concrete plans for engaging participants with diverse affiliations." Faculty leaders generally come from the humanities and social sciences. In many seminars, artists and faculty from professional schools have also played active roles. 

The Office of the Vice President for Research, in partnership with the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has established a process for identifying the proposal that will go forward from the University of Iowa. The internal application process has two stages, and Obermann Director Teresa Mangum, Associate Vice President for Research Ann Ricketts, and Grants Administrator for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Kristi Fitzpatrick are all available to assist faculty members at all stages of preparation.

In this video, Ann Ricketts describes the Sawyer Seminar grants and the application process for UI faculty:

First, interested faculty submit a 2-3 page letter proposing a seminar topic. Authors of plans that look especially promising will then be invited to submit full proposals. One will be selected and support will be provided to help the faculty strengthen the proposal and develop a firm budget before the University submits the proposal to Mellon on the faculty members' behalf.

The letter of intent is due by March 1, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. and should be submitted to the Obermann Center's Director of Operations, erin-hackathorn@uiowa.edu.

Final proposals are due March 29, 2021 by 5:00 p.m. and should be submitted via the OVPR's online application

Your best first step is to attend an information session. We encourage potential applicants to bring a draft of a one-page letter of intent to the information session you are able to attend that includes the title of your proposed seminar, a brief description, and a list of University of Iowa faculty members who will be involved.  We will offer advice before you invest time in the longer application. Also, it might be possible to combine proposals with promising intellectual connections. We will provide sample budgets at the information session.

Read more about Mellon Sawyer Seminars at https://research.uiowa.edu/mellon-foundation-sawyer-seminars and https://mellon.org/programs/higher-learning/sawyer-seminars/.