Nov. 1, 2001
Vol. 21 No. 4

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    MacArthur Foundation awards 2001 ‘genius grant’ to Allen

    By Seth Sanders
    News Office

    Danielle Allen, Associate Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures and the College, has received a 2001 fellowship for $500,000 over five years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

    Her ability to combine “the classicist’s careful attention to texts and language with the political theorist’s sophisticated and informed engagement,” is one reason the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently named Danielle Allen a recipient of its $500,000 MacArthur fellowship.

    Allen, Associate Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures and the College, was one of 23 MacArthur fellows named this year. Paid over a five-year period with no restrictions on its use, the award is not only unusual in its generosity, but also in the methods used to determine its recipients. “Talent scouts” from the program secretly nominate candidates, who might work in any number of fields, ranging from chemistry to nursery school teaching to composing and performing avant-garde jazz.

    The foundation’s criteria for the awards, popularly known as “genius grants,” are “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequentcreative work.”

    “My first plan is to buy many thank you notes and also a dog. And then I intend to reorganize my responsibilities so I have much more time to write. I am finishing a book on citizenship and the things citizens give up for one another, often without any recognition of their losses. I have other political theory projects in the pipeline, and also some creative projects,” said Allen.

    Allen recently gave the traditional Aims of Education Address, which is presented each year to new University students and was reprinted this year in the Chicago Tribune Magazine. The address exemplifies Allen’s combination of attentiveness and engagement, and it developed from an attempt to teach a class on Thucydides on Tuesday, Sept. 11. Initially leery of discussing ancient Greek wars in the face of the worst terrorist attack in history, she was told by her mentor: “If we really believe that studying these old books is of any use, then now is surely the time to test that proposition.”

    Allen found their value confirmed; she wrote that she had “entered that classroom bereft of thought. But in the midst of my paralysis, I had begun to ask questions again. In the midst of my confusion, I began to think. Despite my grief, my mind was not numb. For an hour, by discussing Thucydides, a small group of us escaped paralysis; in fact, I think, we put it behind us. We began to figure out what questions were relevant to understanding our present situation.”

    Allen has produced detailed textual studies that span the gap from Aristotle to Ralph Ellison. In addition to specialized articles on time and imprisonment in ancient Athens, she is currently completing the book Being Citizens: Problems of Trust and Sacrifice, which compares the views of Thomas Hobbes, Ralph Ellison and Aristotle on distrust, rhetoric and civic friendship.

    She also has written on Franz Kafka and the 18th-century doctor, political theorist and fabulist Bernard Mandeville, and she 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 training. 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 earn an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Classics from King’s College, University of 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 March this year.

    Allen 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 this year.

    Allen’s breadth of research extends from the subjects she explores to the places in which she teaches. In addition to pursuing her own research, she also coordinates “Poem Present,” an ongoing contemporary poetry project that brings well-known poets from the United States and abroad to the University. The poets present readings and discuss their works or another issue relevant to contemporary poetry as part of their two-day visits.

    Allen, also a writer of poetry, won the Dada Rylands prize from King’s College, University of Cambridge, in 1995.