Research News

Limited Submission Opportunity: Mellon Foundation Higher Learning Program–2022 Call for Concepts

Applications due April 11

Vanderbilt University may submit up to three concept papers to the Mellon Foundation Higher Learning Program: 2022 Call for Concepts.

In the interest of maintaining a grant-making portfolio that supports inquiry into issues of vital social, cultural and historical import, the Higher Learning program at the Mellon Foundation invites ideas for research and/or curricular projects focused on any of the following three areas:

  • Civic Engagement and Voting Rights
  • Race and Racialization in the United States
  • Social Justice and the Literary Imagination

Civic Engagement and Voting Rights: Differential access to the ballot box has been a defining feature of the U.S. polity throughout the nation’s history, and contestation over voting rights has only intensified during the last decade. Because broad participation in the democratic process is essential to the achievement and maintenance of a just and equitable society, it is crucial that we understand both current and historical challenges to its realization. The Higher Learning program thus invites ideas for scholarly and/or curricular projects that illuminate the significance of voting rights controversies in any period of U.S. history, from any of the various angles of approach that characterize work in the humanities. While proposals might address many different issues related to struggles for enfranchisement—including property requirements, poll taxes, literacy tests, race- and gender-based prohibitions, redistricting systems, voter registration and ID protocols, felony disenfranchisement laws, and recent instances of election interference from the federal executive branch—we especially welcome those that focus on the role of college and university communities in expanding voter access, whether historically or in the contemporary moment.

Race and Racialization in the United States: Recent national controversies have reminded us both that race is a primary fault line in U.S. society and that, consequently, serious consideration of its significance remains a matter of intense urgency. Figuring simultaneously as genetic inheritance, physical appearance, historical construction, social custom, cultural practice, and systemic law and policy, among other things, race is a complex and incoherent phenomenon that accordingly demands analysis along multiple axes. In keeping with Mellon’s mission of building just communities empowered by critical thinking, the Higher Learning program aims to promote rigorous humanities scholarship and pedagogy on past and present effects of racial differentiation across the entire spectrum of national life. We seek fresh perspectives that can expand and deepen the national conversation, recognizing that conventional tools used in analysis of race—e.g., chronologies, geographies, linguistics—have inevitably been shaped by the very phenomena they purport to study, and recognizing, too, that deep study of U.S. racialization may well extend far beyond the nation’s boundaries. We welcome ideas for collective research, curricular innovation, and/or program development focused on any aspect of race and racialization in U.S. culture and society, and are particularly interested in projects that would investigate the relationships and tensions between the social-structural constitution of race, on the one hand, and subjective experiences of it, on the other.

Social Justice and the Literary Imagination: As part of its social justice work in the humanities, the Higher Learning program welcomes concepts dedicated to the role of the literary imagination in making and remaking worlds and societies, past and present. Literature has the power to convey more complete, accurate and emotionally resonant narratives of the human experience than tend to circulate in mainstream discourse. In the contemporary context, for example, Toni Morrison’s fiction, Art Spiegelman’s graphic novels, and Joy Harjo’s poetry all harness the artifice of literary forms to make their communities’ stories visceral and clear without sacrificing complexity; comparable effects have been achieved by literary works in all historical periods. Literature can also speculate about what else could be: proposing social thought experiments and dreamed up inventions in science fiction, fantasy and other genres that invite readers to encounter the world with fresh eyes and dare the next generation to build different systems than the ones they have inherited. Through the combination of such revelatory, reparative and imaginative work, literature has a role to play in laying the foundations for more just and equitable futures. Inquiries might outline curricular development, new scholarship, community engagement, writer convenings and other efforts that highlight and advance the role of literature—from canonical works to less-studied popular writing—in truth-telling and social change.


The principal investigator (PI) should be a faculty member in a program or department in the humanities or humanistic social sciences. For eligible fields of study, see pg. 8 of the guidelines.

Award information

$250,000–$500,000 for up to three years. No indirect costs are allowed. Mellon anticipates allocating up to $10 million for this call for concepts.

Allowed expenditures

Grant awards may be used for purposes such as (but not limited to):

  • Course releases for participating faculty (alternatively, faculty stipends or salary supplements will be considered on a case-by-case basis).
  • Course development funds.
  • Funds for the implementation of experimental projects.
  • Funds to support costs associated with workshops and reading, discussion and/or action groups.
  • Postdoctoral fellowships.
  • Travel and convening expenses, such as speaker honoraria, catering and child care and elder care expenses.
  • Undergraduate research fellowships/stipends.
  • Equipment necessary to the undertaking (see Disallowed Expenditures for exceptions).
  • Up to 10 percent of funds to program operational administrative and occupancy costs directly tied to the grant-funded activities.


The selected nominees must submit a Mellon registration form by April 20, 2022. The deadline for submission of concepts is May 16, 2022. The Mellon Higher Learning team will review all submissions and invite a small number of the most promising ones to be developed into full proposals for potential grant funding. Full proposal invitations will be issued during the summer of 2022, and final grant recommendations will be presented for consideration by Mellon’s board of trustees at its December 2022 meeting, for a January 1, 2023, start date.

See the guidelines for more information.

Internal submission instructions

Interested faculty should visit to submit an application for the internal LSO competition and to find additional information about the opportunity. The deadline for the internal competition is April 11, 2022.

Any questions about this opportunity or the LSO process may be directed to