John E. Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures

Funding Agency:
Mellon (Andrew W.) Foundation

The Andrew Mellon Foundation has invited Duke University to submit one proposal for its Sawyer Seminars. Topical guidance from 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. A more detailed description of the program’s aims, structure, budgetary guidelines, and selection procedures is available on the Mellon website and pasted below.

Proposals will be 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 proposed comparisons, and, of course, on the scholarly accomplishments of the participants.  Mellon expects to make approximately 10 awards from a group of 15-20 with budgets of no more than $225,000 each. The proposal from Duke University to Mellon will be selected by the following internal selection procedure.


Duke encourages two faculty members to partner on proposals to foster an interdisciplinary approach and to share the duties of the grant. Co-conveners should provide a 3 to 5-page statement describing: (1) 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.  Co-conveners are encouraged to explore potential connections to existing seminars such as those under the auspices of Bass Connections and other intellectual hubs across Duke.

Please submit your statements via email to Amy Feistel, administrative assistant to Vice Provost Ed Balleisen, Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, at  If you have questions regarding the internal process, please contact Carol Vorhaus; she may be reached by email at or by calling 681-1967. After Duke's deadline of noon, Friday, February 18, 2022, statements will be forwarded to a selection committee. All applicants will be informed of the committee's decision by Monday, February 28, 2022, and the selectee will be given assistance in preparing their materials for submission to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. If selected, the co-conveners will need to develop a longer version of this document, including sections detailing Duke’s resources and suitability for the proposed seminar; the procedures to be used in selecting graduate and postdoctoral fellows; a budget; and 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. Please note that there are word limits on the narrative. The longer version of the proposal must be submitted via the Mellon Fluxx online portal by noon, Wednesday, March 30, 2022.


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.

Each seminar normally meets for one 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.

There is no requirement that they produce a written product.



  • Duke Internal Deadline: Noon, Friday, February 18, 2022
  • Mellon Foundation Submission Deadline: Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Agency Website



Funding Type





Arts & Humanities
Curriculum Development
Social Sciences

Internal Nomination



Internal Deadline

February 18, 2022

External Deadline

March 30, 2022