Fellowships for the 2007-08 school year are just being finalized by various programs and will soon be announced. Application deadlines for the next round would seem to be a long way off, but actually, the best time to begin working on applications for 2008-09 is right now.
One reason for this is that an important source of support, the Fellowship program at the National Endowment for the Humanities, is on a different cycle. Applications for NEH Fellowships are being accepted NOW. The deadline is May 1, 2007, for fellowships that begin as early as January 1, 2008 or as late as July 1, 2009. For a full set of NEH deadlines, click here.
My advice: if you are going to apply for anything, you should apply for everything that is germane to your topic. Your chances of getting any one fellowship may be slim. The more you apply for, the greater your chance of ending up with something. And once one proposal is written, it can be refined and revised for different programs.
More advice: look for the less well known sources of support that may be targeted toward someone working on a topic like yours. You should apply for the big name national fellowships, but the more obscure ones may be easier to land.
How do you find fellowships like this? The best source I know for grants and fellowships is a searchable database on the website of the American Historical Association. The database is only accessible to AHA members, so that means you should join the AHA now, so that you will have access to the database soon. The student membership fee is $37. Fees for faculty are on a sliding scale based on income, from $42 to $141. There are, of course, lots of other reasons to join the AHA. You can find information about many fellowships on your own on-line, but the AHA database may help you find funding sources you had not considered. If readers know of other good websites for research funding, please post a comment.
Even more advice: Many people find it awkward to ask for references for fellowship applications. I've encountered more than one scholar who has tried to minimize the burden of letter writing by asking lots of different people in the same year, so that each person wouldn't have to write many letters. That approach, in my view, is not ideal. The burden in writing letters is in writing the first letter. Once I've written one, it is easy for me to revise it for other fellowship applications. So the better approach would be to ask a small number of references to write letters for everything you're applying for in one year. In a subsequent year, you can turn to others.
Finally, if you are not successful, get some good feedback on your application, and then try again. Many eminent historians with fancy fellowships on their c.v.s were rejected for these fellowships and others, before succeeding. It may be the particular project; it may be that you need more publications to show a strong track record; it may just be that it was a particularly competitive year and you came close. I would venture to guess that everyone who has been successful at grants and fellowships has a larger pile of rejection letters in a file cabinet somewhere than those letters with an award.