2020 Call for Pre-proposals for the Mellon Foundation's Sawyer Seminar

Event Date

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has invited UC Davis to submit a proposal for the John E. Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures. The seminars, named in honor of the Foundation's long-serving third president, John E. Sawyer, support comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments. Sawyer Seminars are, in effect, temporary research centers. The Mellon Foundation aims to engage scholars in comparative inquiry that would be difficult to pursue in a university setting, while at the same time avoiding the institutionalization of such work in new centers, departments, or programs.

UC Davis Selection Process

The UC Davis Humanities Institute invites faculty to submit a brief pre-proposal (5 pages maximum, including bibliography) outlining the topic of the seminar, and including the names of potential collaborators both on and off campus. As you consider possible topics for the pre-proposal, please pay particular attention to the criteria that the Mellon Foundation has articulated for the full-length proposals.  Proposals should describe:

  • the rationale for raising the central questions to be addressed and the potential significance of the inquiry to be pursued;
  • 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;
  • the institution’s resources and suitability for the proposed seminar; and
  • the procedures to be used in selecting graduate and postdoctoral fellows.

The DHI advisory board will evaluate the proposals per Mellon Foundation criteria and will select one pre-proposal, as the campus nominee, to be developed into a full proposal and submitted to the Mellon Foundation by its deadline of May 4, 2020. The Mellon Foundation selection panel will then recommend 10 proposals, of the 15 to 20 it receives, to its board for funding.

Please submit pre-proposals online at https://voorhies.ucdavis.edu/dhi/funding/.  
Proposals should be submitted by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 6, 2020.


UC Davis has been successful in the Mellon Sawyer Seminar application process. In 2017, we received a Sawyer Seminar grant for “Academic Brands: Globalizing, Privatizing, and Evaluating the University,” led by professors Mario Biagioli (Law, Science and Technology Studies) and Madhavi Sunder (Law). In 2014, we received a Sawyer Seminar grant for “Surveillance Democracies,” led by professors Anupam Chander (Law) and Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli (Cinema and Digital Media, Science and Technology Studies). In 2011, we received a Sawyer Seminar grant for "Indigenous Cosmopolitics: Dialogues about the Reconstitution of Worlds," led by professor Marisol de la Cadena (Anthropology).

Each Sawyer Seminar normally meets for one year; the award provides support for one postdoctoral fellow, dissertation research for two graduate students, as well as funding to bring in scholars for seminar meetings, symposia and/or conferences. More information about the Sawyer Seminar program can be found at the Mellon Foundation's website: mellon.org.

The official invitation from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and program details can be viewed here: https://dhi.ucdavis.edu/call-proposals-mellon-sawyer-seminar.

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