2020 Kluge Prize Winner: Harvard Professor Danielle Allen

The Office of Communications and the Multi-Media Group produced the above video. Brett Zongker in the Office of Communications wrote this article.

Danielle Allen, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, will receive the 2020 John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, the Librarian of Congress has announced.

Allen will collaborate with the Library on an initiative she has designed, titled “Our Common Purpose—A Campaign for Civic Strength at the Library of Congress.” It will include programs to engage schools, universities, political leaders, and the American public in efforts to promote civic engagement. As Allen has said, “Civic education is our common purpose.”

“We are proud to honor Danielle Allen, a leading expert on justice, citizenship and democracy, with the Kluge Prize as she helps to lead a timely national conversation on how we find our common purpose,” said Carla Hayden, the Librarian. “Now is an important moment to discuss ways we can all promote civic strength and engagement, which is at the core of our national culture.”

On July 2, at 7 p.m., join Allen and Kluge Center Director John Haskell for a virtual event: “Danielle Allen Takes on the Hard Questions about Democracy and Public Life.” Free tickets are available.

Allen is the principal investigator of the Democratic Knowledge Project, a K-16 educational platform designed to identify and disseminate the knowledge and capacities required for democratic citizenship. She is also co-chair of a bipartisan commission, convened by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which on June 11 recommended 31 steps to strengthen American institutions and civic culture to help a nation in crisis emerge with a more resilient democracy.

Allen is the author of “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality,” an analysis that reinvigorates public understanding of the founding document of the United States.

Her 2017 memoir, “Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A.,” examines the way that racism in the justice system and mass incarceration impacted her own family. In it, she made a call for equality before the law and civic participation that animates all of her work.

Allen was a 2001 MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient for her ability to combine “the classicist’s careful attention to texts and language with the political theorist’s sophisticated and informed engagement.”

As a frequent public lecturer, contributing columnist for The Washington Post, and regular guest on public radio, she discusses issues of citizenship and policy. In her role as director of the E.J. Safra Center, Allen has spearheaded an initiative helping to guide the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am deeply honored to be Dr. Hayden’s selection for the Kluge Prize and to be among the prestigious company of past winners,” Allen said. “I look forward to working with the Library of Congress in the coming months on Our Common Purpose – to promote civic education and engagement among Americans of all ages.”

The Kluge Prize recognizes individuals whose outstanding scholarship in the humanities and social sciences has shaped public affairs and civil society. The international prize highlights the value of researchers who communicate beyond the scholarly community and have had a major impact on social and political issues. The prize comes with a $500,000 award. Additional funds from the Library’s Kluge endowment, which funds the award, are being invested in Kluge Center programming.

Hayden selected Allen from a short list of finalists following a request for nominations from scholars and leaders all over the world and a three-stage review process by experts inside and outside the Library.

Allen was born in Takoma Park, Maryland. She studied classics at Princeton, graduating summa cum laude. She earned M.Phil and Ph.D. degrees in classics from King’s College, University of Cambridge and A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in government from Harvard University.

She is an internationally-regarded political theorist with an extensive record of scholarship on justice, citizenship, and democracy in ancient Athens and modern America. From 1997 to 2007 she served on the faculty of the University of Chicago, rising through the academic ranks to become a professor of both classics and political science, as well as a member of the Committee on Social Thought. She spent the next eight years as the UPS Foundation Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, before joining the Harvard faculty as the James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics in 2015.

The Kluge Center’s mission, as established in 2000, is to “reinvigorate the interconnection between thought and action,” bridging the gap between scholarship and policy making. To that end, the  Center brings some of the world’s great thinkers to the Library to make use of the Library collections and engage in conversations addressing the challenges facing democracy in the 21st century.

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