Noted for teaching in multiple disciplines, Allen becomes new dean of Humanities

By Usman Ahmed

Danielle Allen, a 32-year-old professor of Classics and political science, will succeed Janel Mueller as dean of the University’s Humanities Division on July 1.

Allen’s responsibilities as dean will include supervising research, teaching, and administration of the Humanities Division.

Allen said she thought it an honor to be chosen to succeed dean Mueller. She described the Division under Mueller as an unparalleled resource for shaping the scholarly and public spheres.

“I hope to continue enhancing the symbiotic relationship we have between traditional humanism and new areas of humanities scholarship and also to extend programming in the arts and community partnering in ways that complement the Division’s core scholarly mission,” Allen said in a press release. “It will be a pleasure to support and advance the creative energy of the Division’s faculty, staff and students.”

Christopher Faraone, professor of classical languages and literatures, said he understood the dean’s role to be one that fosters the intellectual health and excellence of the University’s students and faculty.

James M. Redfield, Edward Olson Distinguished Service Professor in the Classics Department, added that from his observations the chief duty of a dean is to attract and retain an excellent faculty.

As dean, Allen said she plans to think systematically about how universities and in particular humanities departments contribute to shaping and circulating knowledge within democratic communities.

Since 1997, when Allen joined the University community, she has taught introductory and advanced Greek, political theory, and the core sequences in the humanities and social sciences. She specializes in a diverse range of fields: classical Greek literature, Athenian history, ancient and modern political philosophy, democratic theory, American political and legal history, and 20th-century American poetry.

“For me, the richest forms of historical inquiry are those that also sharpen our sights for seeing and understanding our own circumstances,” Allen said.

Currently Allen is studying the phenomena of literature in crisis, exploring how Athenian writers attempted to stabilize their political world by developing authoritative voices.

In 2001, Allen was recognized for her scholastic achievements when she was named one of the year’s 23 MacArthur fellows. Popularly referred to as the “genius grant,” the MacArthur Foundation awards recipients $500,000 over a period of five years. The award is particularly coveted because, unlike many fellowships, there are no restrictions on how it must be spent. In naming her a MacArthur fellow, the foundation cited Allen’s ability to incorporate “the classicists’ careful attention to texts and languages with the political theorists’ sophisticated and informed engagement.”

“I don’t usually think of myself as teaching knowledge. I like to think of myself as teaching a way to ask questions and advance conversations,” Allen said of her methodology of teaching for which in 2001 she received a Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

This year, Allen will teach at the Illinois Humanities Council’s Odyssey Project. The project, a one-year course for people between the ages of 18 and 35 who live near the poverty line, explores seminal works in the humanities.

Through her academic achievements and the breadth of her studies, Allen has managed to gain the respect of her colleagues. “She is an unusually broadly educated person—as well equipped as anyone I know to evaluate work in all fields of the humanities,” Redfield said.

Faraone echoed Redfield’s praise, citing Allen’s two Ph.D.s and appointments in Classics, political science, and the Committee on Social Thought as evidence of her qualifications.

“She is a brilliant thinker and writer and a pragmatic problem solver. She is also a very good and thoughtful listener,” he said. “I think she has the energy, intelligence, and personal charisma to be an excellent leader—perhaps the best ever—of the Humanities Division.”

While Allen is excited to take on her new role this summer, she admitted being nervous of her new responsibilities as dean of the Humanities Division. “It’s a bit like closing your eyes, holding your nose, taking a deep gulp of air, and jumping.”