Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowships at the Wolf Humanities Center

Topic: Choice

The Wolf Humanities Center awards five (5) one-year Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowships each academic year to junior scholars in the humanities who are no more than five years out of their doctorate. Preference will be given to candidates not yet in tenure track positions, whose proposals are interdisciplinary, who have not previously enjoyed use of the resources of the University of Pennsylvania, and who would particularly benefit from and contribute to Penn's intellectual life.

The programs of the Wolf Humanities Center are conceived through yearly topics that invite broad interdisciplinary collaboration. For the 2020-2021 academic year, our topic will be CHOICE.

The Fellowship carries a stipend of $57,900 plus a $3000 research fund and single-coverage health insurance (fellows are responsible for coverage for any dependents). Fellows teach one undergraduate course in addition to conducting their research.


  • The PhD (and its international equivalent, such as the DPhil) is the only eligible terminal degree, and applicants must be humanists or those in such allied fields as anthropology or history of science. Ineligible categories include an MFA or any other doctorate such as EdD, social scientists, scholars in educational curriculum building, and performing artists (note: scholars of performance are eligible).
  • Scholars who received or will receive their PhD between December 1, 2014 and December 1, 2019 are eligible to apply. You must have your degree in hand, or have passed your defense, no later than December 1, 2019 to be eligible. Your application will not be considered unless this condition is met (i.e., you are ineligible to apply if you will defend or otherwise submit your dissertation anytime in 2020). You are eligible to apply if you pass your defense by December 1, 2019, but will not graduate until May 2020.
  • Scholars are required to spend the year (August–May) in residence at Penn.
  • During their year in residence, Fellows pursue their proposed research, are required to teach one course during the year, and must also participate in the Center's weekly Mellon Research Seminar (Tuesdays, 12:00–1:50), presenting their research at one of those seminars.

The fellowship is open to all scholars, national and international, who meet application terms.

Visa eligibility: International scholars outside of North America are appointed under a J-1 visa (Research Scholar status). Scholars seeking to hold an H-1B visa during the fellowship year at Penn are ineligible (no exceptions can be made). The Wolf Humanities Center reserves the right to cancel awards if the recipient is unable to meet this condition. Applicants should consult the international programs office at their current university to confirm eligibility before applying for this fellowship. If awarded a fellowship, international scholars are required to be in residence August 1, 2020–May 31, 2021.

Call for applications 2020-2021. Topic: Choice

Topic Director: Sophia Rosenfeld
Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History

Choice. Sometimes it refers to the familiar act of picking among available options. Sometimes it refers to the options themselves. And in all cultures and societies, as well as in fiction and mythology, people make, and have made, choices, collectively and individually. We can talk about consumer choice, moral choice, aesthetic choice, affective choice, educational choice, political choice, and more.  

But what those choices were; when, where, how and on what grounds they were made; and who got to make them, as well as determine the menu of options, have varied considerably across time and space, as well as across differences of class, race, gender, age, and belief system. So have those features of our lives that have been placed outside the realm of choice—informally or through legal prohibition--from aspects of sexuality, gender expression, and reproduction, to particular forms of art, such as those rooted in chance. This situation makes the rules around choice and their implications ripe for analysis from multiple perspectives.   

Scholars have responded. Students of world religions and historians of all kinds, including those concerned primarily with language, literature, and art, have highlighted differences among what might be called “choice regimes.” Philosophers and political theorists have shown that these differences often have large political implications, from shaping notions of freedom to determining conceptions of responsibility, guilt, and even self. Scholars and practitioners of literature, film, and psychoanalysis, meanwhile, have demonstrated how choice-making structures narrative, shaping too the way individual life stories are told and understood. Feminists and scholars of race, ethnicity, and sexuality have underscored the differential levels of access, uses, and effects of choice across populations. And while behavioral psychologists have lately helped us to see why the whole business of choosing is so often fraught and how little the “rational choice” view of humans corresponds to what we really do, computer scientists, experts in decision science, and policy experts have been busy both figuring out how both to maximize our choice-making abilities, given our cognitive limitations, and to mold the contours (or “choice architecture”) in which we do.  

A scholarly and public debate also exists today (albeit usually divided into different strands focused on the future of consumer culture, the future of democracy and human rights, or the future of literature and the arts) about what the contemporary investment in choice amounts to. Under what circumstances, precisely, does enhanced choice constitute a form of emancipation? Conversely, when does having more choices become a form of oppression, because we are overwhelmed by the number of options in the age of the internet, because opportunities are so unevenly distributed around the globe, or because some of the dire consequences of choice for the future of the earth are becoming increasingly apparent? This is, in part, a debate about the liberal democratic world order, but its roots go back deep in time, as do the roots of the many challenges and alternatives to this way of seeing the world still in existence. How can the study of a wide variety of societies and cultures grappling with choice, including those well in the past, help us think about our current situation—and vice versa?

For 2020-21, the Wolf Humanities Center will take up the theme of choice, broadly construed, to examine how processes of selection and decision-making have operated and been imagined around the world and across time, from pre-history and antiquity to the present and even into the future.  Application

The Wolf Humanities Center is using Interfolio to conduct this search. Applicants to this position receive a free Dossier account and can send all application materials, including confidential letters of recommendation, free of charge.

To apply, please fill out the five required forms:

  • 1.) Applicant Profile & Education,
  • 2.) Applicant Research,
  • 3.) Proposed Course Description,
  • 4.) Referees' Names and Contact,
  • 5.) Equal Employment Opportunity; 
  • upload your C.V.; and 
  • submit requests for 3 confidential letters of recommendation.

Forms, C.V., and three letters must be uploaded and submitted by end of day October 15, 2019. 

Date de candidature
1 année académique
Sciences sociales : Sciences de l'information et de la communication