Call for Concepts

More Information

Refer to our guidelines document for further details on how to apply.

In the interest of maintaining a grantmaking 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 three areas outlined below:

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


About the 2022 Call for Concepts

The 2022 Call for Concepts is now open. This call is open to all accredited, non-profit, four-year degree-granting institutions in the US that offer liberal arts education. (Full eligibility criteria can be found in the Call for Concepts guidelines.) As always, Mellon seeks to support institutions with a demonstrated record of excellence in the humanities, and we particularly welcome concepts from institutions that are minority-serving (MSIs) and/or have not received Mellon funding in the last five years. 

Institutions may submit up to three concepts total, with each submission consisting of an online application form and a project description of approximately 1,000 words. Envisioned projects should be achievable with contributions from Mellon of $250,000–$500,000, with durations of up to three years. We anticipate allocating up to $10 million for this call for concepts; the final number of proposals selected will depend on the number and substance of the submissions.

The deadline for potential applicants to register is April 20, 2022, and 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. 

Complete guidelines for the preparation and submission of concepts can be found here. While Mellon will acknowledge and provide definitive answers on the outcome of all submissions, staffing limitations prevent us from offering feedback on those that are not selected for further consideration. Additional information about the Higher Learning program can be found on the program website.

Potential applicants should complete a registration form. After Mellon staff have processed the registration request, eligible applicants will gain access to the application form in our Fluxx grantee portal. On the form, applicants will be asked to provide the following information and documents in support of the project:

  • A project concept of approximately 1,000 words
  • CV for Principal Investigator 
  • Letter of endorsement
  • A paragraph description outlining the applicant institution’s track record of excellence in the humanities
  • A paragraph description outlining the applicant institution’s track record of successfully pursuing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts on campus
  • Budget estimate and brief budget description

Please note that the Higher Learning program will not fund through this call items and activities such as tuition, K-12 education, capital projects, business-class travel, and real estate. Please refer to the Allowed and Disallowed Expenditures section of the Call for Concepts guidelines for a full list of what the call will not fund. 

Refer to our guidelines document for further details on how to apply. If you have any questions about this Call for Concepts, please contact program staff at

Please note: Inquiries about the program and applications must be sent to the above e-mail. We are unable to assist via telephone.


Any organization that responds to this Call for Concepts must:

  • Be a four-year, non-profit, accredited, degree-granting institution in the US that offers liberal arts education. (For a full list of ineligible higher education institutions, see the Eligibility section of the Call for Concepts guidelines.)
  • Offer multiple degrees in humanities and/or humanistic social science disciplines
  • Enroll more than 1,000 full-time, degree-seeking undergraduates

In order to ensure that your organization is eligible to apply for this funding opportunity, all interested applicants must first complete a registration request form.

Key Dates

  • Registration deadline: Wednesday, April 20, 2022, at 3 pm Eastern Time
  • Application deadline: Monday, May 16, 2022, at 3 pm Eastern Time
  • Applicants notified: By mid-September 2022

Grantmaking Areas

Civic Engagement and Voting Rights 
Differential access to the ballot box has been a defining feature of the US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 
Poetry “makes nothing happen,” and “yet men [sic] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”* 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.
* from the poems “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” (W. H. Auden, 1939) and “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” (William Carlos Williams, 1955)