March 18, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 12

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    Allen, 2001 MacArthur fellow, to serve as Dean

    By Seth Sanders
    News Office

    Danielle Allen

    Classics professor Danielle Allen will become Dean of the Division of the Humanities, beginning July 1. Allen, 32, who has produced influential work on democracy, citizenship and justice in both ancient Greece and modern America, is the first MacArthur fellow to become a Dean at the University.

    “Danielle Allen is not only a brilliant scholar, an inspiring teacher, and an engaged and enlightened citizen,” said President Randel. “She also is 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.”

    As Dean, Allen will oversee the research, teaching and administration of the division, which includes 15 departments and six committees that cover languages, literatures and culture. She will succeed Janel Mueller, the William Rainey Harper Distinguished Service Professor in the College, who has been Dean since 1999.

    “Dean Mueller has been an eloquent advocate for humanistic research and teaching over the past five years,” said Richard Saller, Provost of the University and a Classics professor. “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.”

    Allen, Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures, Political Science, the Committee on Social Thought and the College, said: “I am honored 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 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 chose her to receive its “genius” fellowship in 2001.

    Allen is widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in ancient Athens and its application 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 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 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 won that university’s Samuel D. Atkins Thesis Prize. She went on to earn 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 joined the Chicago Humanities faculty as an Assistant Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures in 1997, was appointed to Associate Professor in 2000, and received the College’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2001.

    In addition to pursuing her own research, Allen has coordinated a series in contemporary poetry, titled “Poem Present.” Once a writer of poetry, Allen won the Dada Rylands Prize from King’s College, University of Cambridge in 1995.

    Her breadth of scholarship extends from the subjects she explores to the places in which she teaches. She has said one of her greatest pedagogical experiences came from teaching U.S. history to students living below the poverty level on Chicago’s West Side. “It was absolutely exhilarating,” she said of the experience, which was part of the Illinois Humanities Council’s Odyssey Project. “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.”