Purpose: The Mellon Foundation's Sawyer Seminars programme provides support for comparative research on historical and contemporary topics of major scholarly significance.  The scheme aims to:

  • 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; and

  • 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 centres, departments, or programs. 

In particular, the Mellon Foundation is keen to encourage the development of:

  • diverse scholarly/research practices and communities; and

  • innovative formats for the series of seminars

Further information: https://mellon.org/programs/higher-education-and-scholarship-humanities/fellowships/sawyer-seminars/.

University of Oxford has been invited to submit ONE proposal only.


Deadlines: As only one proposal is requested by Mellon, a cross-divisional panel, chaired by the Associate Head (Research) (Hums) will review a maximum two-page Expression of Interest (EoI) outlining the:

  • Names and qualifications of the proposed participants, multi-disciplinarity of the team.

  • the thematic "threads" that will run through the seminar;

  • the central questions to be addressed and scholarly importance;

  • the cases to be compared (e.g., nations, regions, social aggregates, time periods) and the rationale for the comparisons that are selected.


    The internal deadline is 9.00am 29 February and the successful proposal will be informed by 8 March. Only the successful EoI will be invited to develop a fully worked up proposal (max 8000 words) with an X5 costing. The Foundation’s deadline is 31 March 2016.


    Please send EoIs to: Andrew.Fairweather-tall@humanities.ox.ac.uk 


    Budget: $175K for a programme of seminars. 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. It is expected that the graduate students will be active participants in the seminars, and 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. 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 release time for regular faculty participants, or for indirect costs.

    Rough budgetary guidance: Approximately $115K should be set aside for the post-doc and graduate bursaries, and therefore EoIs can assume they could fund the travel/subsistence of about 20 speakers, normal seminar expenses, and support through TORCH including a web page.


    Mellon Reviewing Criteria

    Full proposals will be judged by the Mellon Trustees on:

  • the originality and significance of the subject of inquiry;

  • the aptness of plans for seminar meetings;

  • the opportunities they present for comparative study (“thematic threads”);

  • the rationale for the proposed comparisons;

  • the scholarly accomplishments of the participants and the appropriateness of the University to host these sessions.

    After they are submitted to the Foundation, a selection panel composed of distinguished scholars will select ten proposals from the group of 15-20 anticipated, and recommend them to the Board. The Foundation Trustees will consider these in September 2016. Seminars will not normally commence until the following calendar year (January 2017).


    Previous seminar series in the UK:

    2009-10: Oxford, “Understanding Human Creativity: Ecologies and Practices of Invention” http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/news/articles/120306.html

    2008-09: Edinburgh, “Embodied Values: Bringing the Senses Back to the Environment” http://www.iash.ed.ac.uk/sawyer.html

    2007-08: Cambridge, “Crisis, What Crisis? Collapse and Dark Ages in Comparative Perspectives” http://www.mcdonald.cam.ac.uk/news/090507/

    2007-08: Cambridge, “Modeling Futures: Understanding Risk and Uncertainty” http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/page/166/sawyer-seminar-on-risk-.htm

    2007-08: London, School of Advanced Study, “Fratricide & Fraternité: Understanding and Repairing Neighbourly Atrocity” http://www.sas.ac.uk/568.html

    2007-08: Oxford, “About Turns: Conversion in Late Antiquity Christianity, Islam and Beyond” http://www.ocla.ox.ac.uk/pdf/poster_mellon_9oct2009.pdf

    2007-08: Oxford, “National Economic Policy-Making in the Face of Globalization” http://www.oxiged.ox.ac.uk/index.php/mellon-sawyer-seminar