Danielle S. Allen (Kings ’96)

Dr Danielle S. Allen is a political theorist, author, educator, and the James Bryant Conant Professor at Harvard University. 

Dr Allen studied for her undergraduate degree at Princeton University in 1993, graduating with a summa cum laude in Classics, and was inducted into Phi beta kappa. She came to Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, where she studied for an M.Phil. in classics at King’s college further advancing to a PhD to study Athenian democracy and graduating in 1996. Allen then pursued further graduate studies at Harvard University receiving a Master’s in government in 1998 and a PhD in government in 2001. In 2002, Dr Allen was the recipient of the MacArthur genius fellowship for her Steller contributions to the field of classics and political science and, her ability to combine “the classicist’s careful attention to texts and language with the political theorist’s sophisticated and informed engagement.”

While at Cambridge, Allen recounts how she wrote and recited poems with friends, debated about crime and punishment in ancient Athens as a graduate student, whilst sitting on the banks of the River Cam. She writes about how this experience has also informed her advocacy and a fierce critique of American democracy and its criminal justice system. In her book, “Cuz” Allen engages this dilemma when she weaves a personal narrative that detailed the harms of mass incarceration and one that begs its readers to challenge some of the narratives and policies about the American criminal justice system and democracy. A fellow Black Cantab, Dr Henry Louis Gate, lauded the text, as a literary and political event akin to Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark. 

Dr Allen is a phenomenal writer and academic who is known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America. She firmly believes that studying philosophy, history and literature can assist students to engage and participate in politics in an informed way. Allen is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education (2004), Why Plato Wrote (2010), and Our Declaration (Norton/Liveright, 2014). Among her many accolades, she was a trustee of Amhurst College, and Princeton University, the chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, and the Mellon Foundation board of trustees. Dr Allen currently serves as the Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.