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The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) stands as the leading private institution in the United States that supports scholars in the humanities and related social sciences at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels.

The ACLS’s means of support for humanists and humanistic social scientists are a dozen distinct fellowship programs, of which the central ACLS Fellowship program is both the best known and the most widely accessible to humanities scholars.
Other programs, though not all are offered annually, support collaborative research by teams of scholars, residencies for individuals at humanities centers, digital humanities projects, research by scholars based in Africa, and research on Chinese, African, and Buddhist topics.

Though exact deadlines vary, fellowship applications are typically due the last Wednesday of September. 

Components of applications to the central fellowship program

While each fellowship program has distinct application guidelines, requirements, and criteria, the main program can serve as a template for most of the others.

An application to the central fellowship program includes five components:

1. Application Form

The application form is a lengthy document that requires an hour or two to complete, primarily by transferring information from a current CV. The form is most easily completed in consultation with the Grants Office staff. 

The application form requires some material specific to the project:

  1. Research Proposal Title (up to 250 characters, including spaces)
  2. Research Proposal Abstract (up to 800 characters, including spaces)
  3. Statement on the broad humanistic significance of your project (up to 2000 characters, including spaces):
    “Your proposal will be reviewed by scholars within your specific discipline and by others from across the humanities and related social sciences. Use this space to make a concise case for the broader significance of the project for the humanities and related social sciences in a way that will be legible and of interest to scholars outside your field. You should refrain from employing technical language specific to your discipline that may make this significance unclear to non- specialists.”
  4. Connections to pedagogy (up to 800 characters, including spaces)
    “If you have teaching responsibilities, please describe how your proposed project will connect with your pedagogical practice.”
  5. Other information
    • Location of where proposed research will be conducted: specify where and when you plan to do so by indicating “semester/location”
    • Countries or areas on which your research is focused.
    • Countries or areas other than the US in which you have done research in the last five years.
    • Up to five disciplinary areas, in order of relevance, that describe your research project
    • “Up to eight grants, fellowships, scholarships, academic honors, or awards you have received, giving in each case the dates, purposes, and approximate amounts.”

2. Project Narrative

The main description of the project, running to a maximum of five double-spaced pages in Times New Roman 11-point font, and using headings like these:

  • Project summary (what you plan to do and why)
  • Progress already made
  • Relevance of the project to your professional experience
  • Significance of the work within your specific and general fields
  • Work plan for the fellowship period

3. Bibliography

An overview of essential references for your project, balancing the various sorts of key materials being used and running to a maximum of two pages, single spaced but with an extra line between entries. Use Times New Roman 11-point font.

4. Publications List

A list of your representative publications, including titles, dates of publication, names of publishers or journals, and numbers of pages, and running to a maximum of two pages, single spaced. Use Times New Roman 11-point font.

5. Brief Writing Sample

For the writing sample, include a brief description of context and the sample’s relation to proposed project; no more than five pages total, single or double spaced, including footnotes or endnotes, in Times New Roman 11-point font.

6. Two Reference Letters

Secure letters from scholars competent to judge both the present research proposal and your past scholarship; ideally, you should select referees who are not affiliated with your own institution.

Other considerations

Again, note that other ACLS programs will have other application requirements which must be addressed. For instance, the popular Collaborative Research Fellowship program allows a 10-page project narrative and requires a detailed budget and a research plan that outlines the nature of the collaboration.

The ACLS’s program webpages and FAQ pages offer many insights into the programs and the application and review processes.


Charlotte Whited and Dee Menning in the Grants Office will be happy to assist prospective applicants in selecting appropriate ACLS programs and especially in preparing applications.

NOTE for 2020:  from ACLS Fellowship page:

“Given the disproportionate effect the current economic downturn has on emerging, independent, and untenured scholars, in the 2020-21 competition year the awards are designated solely for untenured scholars who have earned the PhD within the past eight years. ACLS welcomes applications from scholars without faculty appointments and scholars off the tenure track.”

Other ACLS programs, like the Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism, and International Affairs, the Mellon/ACLS Scholars and Society program, and the ACLS Digital Extension Grant program, will continue to support the work of scholars across a range of career stages.