The University of Chicago News Office
March 5, 2004 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

MacArthur fellow, classicist and political theorist Allen appointed Dean of Humanities

    Danielle Allen


Danielle Allen, Professor in Classics and Political Science at the University of Chicago, will become Dean of the University’s Humanities Division on July 1, 2004. Allen, 32, has produced influential work on democracy, citizenship and justice in both ancient Greece and modern America. She also is the first MacArthur “genius” award winner to become a Dean at the University. As Dean, Allen will be responsible for overseeing the research, teaching and administration of the Humanities Division, which includes 15 Departments and 6 degree-granting Committees covering languages, literatures and culture. She succeeds Janel Mueller, who has been Dean since 1999.

Don Randel, President of the University, said “Danielle Allen is not only a brilliant scholar, an inspiring teacher, and an engaged and enlightened citizen. She is also a person who understands that the eternal truths of our Humanistic traditions must be constantly re-energized and applied in our lives, if we have any hope of living as ╩thoughtful human beings and worthy citizens of a great democracy. Through her scholarship, her teaching and her service she has shown that she understands and is willing to share these truths with her colleagues, with her students and with her fellow citizens. We are most fortunate that she has agreed to apply some of her wisdom and energy to the leadership of our Humanities Division, and I very much look forward to working with her.”

Richard Saller, Provost of the University and Professor in Classics, said that “Dean Mueller has been an eloquent advocate for humanistic research and teaching over the past five years. Danielle Allen will continue the tradition of excellence, bringing the highest standards of scholarship and an active commitment to projecting the benefits of the humanities beyond the walls of the university.”

“I am honored,” Allen said, “to have been invited to follow in Dean Mueller’s footsteps. She hands on a Division whose strong intellectual and interdisciplinary traditions remain an unparalleled resource for shaping both our scholarly and our public worlds. I hope to continue enhancing the symbiotic relationship we have between traditional humanism and new areas of humanities scholarship and also to expand programming in the arts and community partnering in ways that complement the Division’s core scholarly mission. It will be a pleasure to support and advance the creative energy of the Division’s faculty, staff and students.”

Allen’s ability to combine “the classicist’s careful attention to texts and language with the political theorist’s sophisticated and informed engagement” was one reason the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation gave for making her a recipient of its MacArthur fellowship in 2001. Allen, Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures, Political Science, the Committee on Social Thought and the College, is widely known both for her work on justice and citizenship in ancient Athens and her application of these questions to modern America. The combination of scholarly virtues mentioned by the MacArthur Foundation is exemplified in her comments after teaching Thucydides on September 11, 2001: “Last week for the first time in my life I discovered the full power of education…education can ward off the paralysis of mind that is the worst danger for democratic citizens.”

As a scholar, Allen has produced detailed studies that span the period from Aristotle to Ralph Ellison. In addition to specialized articles on time and imprisonment in ancient Athens, she has recently completed the book Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, which tackles the question of how to deal with distrust within a democratic citizenry (forthcoming, University of Chicago Press, 2004). She also has written on Franz Kafka and the 18th-century doctor, political theorist and fabulist Bernard Mandeville and is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens.

Allen prepared for her teaching and research with a cross-disciplinary program of study. She earned a B.A. from Princeton University in classics (with a political theory minor) and there won the Samuel D. Atkins Thesis Prize. She went on to an M.A. and a Ph.D. in classics from King’s College, Cambridge, winning the Hare Prize in Ancient Greek History for her dissertation. She immediately began work in political theory in Harvard University’s government department, earning an A.M. in 1998 and a Ph.D. in 2001.

She came to Chicago in 1997 as an Assistant Professor in Classics, was appointed to Associate Professor in 2000 and received a Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University in May 2001. Allen’s breadth extends from the subjects she explores to the places in which she teaches. She said that one of her greatest pedagogical experiences came from students on Chicago’s West Side, where she taught U.S. history to students below the poverty level as part of the Illinois Humanities Council’s Odyssey Project. “It was absolutely exhilarating,” she said. “The students were so frank and so direct. They gave me back my frankness.”

For Allen, frankness and trust are essential not only to the classroom but to the nation: “What we do in the classroom is like what we do in democracy. Citizenship is the struggle, carried out through conversation, to achieve accounts of the world that accord with norms of friendship and provide grounds for action. We have this conversation in the classroom; we have it in the world.”

In addition to pursuing her own research, Allen has coordinated a series in contemporary poetry at Chicago titled “Poem Present.” Finally, Allen herself was once a writer of poetry, for which she won the Dada Rylands Prize from King’s College, University of Cambridge in 1995.
Last modified at 12:09 PM CST on Wednesday, March 10, 2004.

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