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Sawyer Seminars

Mellon Foundation John E. Sawyer Seminars

Vice President, Research Paul Young is pleased to announce the University of Toronto's invitation from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to submit a proposal for the John E. Sawyer Seminars program.

The aim of the Sawyer Seminars is to bring together faculty, visitors, students, and postdoctoral fellows from the arts, humanities, and interpretive social sciences to engage in multi-disciplinary and comparative inquiry.  Seminars normally meet for one year, must include support for one postdoctoral fellow and for dissertation research for two graduate students.  Maximum funding from the Foundation is $175,000 USD.

The University of Toronto has long been a world leader in humanities and social sciences scholarship and it is an honour to have received the Mellon Foundation's invitation.

The Office of the Vice President, Research, in partnership with the Director of the Jackman Humanities Institute, have established a process for identifying the proposal that will go forward from UofT.  Please consult the following website link for more details if you are interested or wish to apply:


For further information, please contact Krista Montgomery, Research Funding Manager, at (416) 978-2155 or Robert Gibbs, Director of the Jackman Humanities Institute, at (416) 978-7415.

Competition Process

Step One:  Notice of Intent (Deadline 25 January): one document that provides the title of your proposed seminar, a brief description, and a list of University of Toronto faculty members who will be involved.  This application is online and will be accessible starting at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday 18 January, here:  http://www.humanities.utoronto.ca/funding/id=24

Step Two:  Full application (Deadline 10 February): two documents: a detailed project description, and a budget; plus a short CV for each of up to four University of Toronto faculty team members.  This application is online and will be accessible starting at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday 25 January, here:

Step Three:  An internal peer review panel will select the proposal to move forward:  The applicant chosen to submit their Seminar plan to the Mellon Foundation will be notified by the JHI by February 17th.   Your final proposal is due no later than  the internal deadline of February 24th.   JHI and RSO will secure an insitutional letter of support and ensure that the support letter and your proposal reaches the Mellon Foundation by its March 1st deadline.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Purpose:  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.
Program Activities:  To date, 133 seminars have been funded.  Their subjects have ranged widely, and they can be viewed on our website www.mellon.org (search for Sawyer Seminar and see “funded seminars”).
The maximum grant award for each Sawyer Seminar is $175,000 (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 seminars, and the seminars’ contribution 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.
Selection and Award Process:  Institutions will be invited to submit a seminar proposal.  It is expected that university administrators and others will communicate the Foundation’s invitation and the particulars of the program broadly to the faculty.  Institutions will decide through an internal process which proposal they will submit to the Foundation for consideration.
Proposals should describe: (1) the rationale for raising the central questions to be addressed and the potential significance of the inquiry to be pursued; (2) the cases to be studied (e.g., nations, regions, social aggregates, time periods) and the perspectives to be brought to bear on them; (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.  Additionally, proposals should include 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.  Short CVs (1-2 pages) should be provided only for the principal seminar organizers.
After proposals are submitted to the Foundation, they will be reviewed by members of the staff, who may elect to communicate with the applicants about possible revisions or additions.  All proposals received by the annual deadline will be judged by a committee of scholars in the humanities.  The number of proposals selected by the committee will vary from year to year, depending on the funds available.  The selection committee’s recommendations are then put before the Mellon Foundation’s Board of Trustees for its approval, after which the applicants are notified of the outcome.  In the case of a worthy proposal that is not selected for funding, the Foundation may invite the institution that submitted it to reapply in a subsequent year, although there is no guarantee that the proposal will then be approved.
Following approval by the Foundation’s Trustees, funds will be disbursed to the host institution.  Past experience suggests that it can take a year or more to organize the seminars.  After a seminar has taken place, its leaders are responsible for submitting a report on the work carried out to the Foundation.
Budget:  Funding requests should not exceed $175,000 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 amount for postdoctoral fellowship awards and dissertation fellowship stipends should follow institutional practices.  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 be included.  The grants may not, however, be used for the costs of released time for regular faculty participants, or for indirect costs.

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