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Harvard University Professor Danielle Allen Receives Governor’s Award in the Humanities

Professor Danielle Allen
Professor Danielle Allen

University Professor Danielle S. Allen received a 2019 Governor's Award at the annual Massachusetts Humanities Dinner Sunday evening.

Allen, the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, was chosen for the award by the Mass Humanities Board of Directors and confirmed by Governor Charlie D. Baker, Jr. ’79.

Sunday’s award dinner was hosted at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, and followed a free public forum featuring Allen in conversation with Harvard History professor Jill Lepore about the importance of history in democracy.

Elizabeth A. Duclos-Orsello, Dinner Committee co-chair and vice chair of the Board of Directors, said in an interview that the organization chose Allen as an “exemplar” of connecting civic engagement with the principles of humanities.

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“Danielle Allen is someone whose professional life has been dedicated to thinking about how to take what often seem as big complicated ideas that sometimes get locked away in the academy and bring them to the public in ways that make them meaningful and that encourage other people to see that they have — they are actors in this messy, crazy thing we call an American democracy,” Duclos-Orsello said.

The evening began with a reception and dinner, followed by the award presentation that featured a brief montage of Allen’s accomplishments. She then offered short remarks to the crowd.

“The work itself has always been its own reward,” Allen said. “No one ever regrets accepting the invitation to bring the best of our human capacities, to make unique of common human trials.”

Event attendee Nichole A. Turpin said Allen demonstrates the unique ability to connect her scholarship to everyday people.

“She’s relatable and understandable on a level that makes everyone feel like they’re belonging in the space that she’s making, which I think is really needed at this time,” Turpin said.

Mass Humanities’ leadership also applauded Allen for her contributions to the Clemente Course in the Humanities. Funded by Mass Humanities, the Clemente program was started in 1995 to teach art, philosophy, and literature to adult students who would not otherwise afford this type of education.

Mass Humanities Executive Director Brian W. Boyles said Allen worked for the program early in her career while teaching at the University of Chicago.

“She taught that course twice a week in the evenings to people who didn't have access to the humanities traditionally, and I think that that's been a spirit of her work,” Boyles said in an interview.

Allen said in an interview at the reception that teaching Clemente classes was among the “most important teaching experiences of my life” and that she had been a supporter of Mass Humanities for more than two decades because of the organization’s continued advocacy for the Clemente program in Massachusetts.

“It matters a lot to me that Mass Humanities was one of the first humanities councils to support Clemente,” she said. “They rest on a vision that every person should have equal access to the cultural wealth of the humanities.”

Looking forward from this honor, Allen said she plans to continue her work at the intersection of humanities and democracy.

“I think doing the same thing I'm already doing, which is that in whatever ways I have available to me, I seek to support the cause of democracy and make sure we can pass on a healthy flourishing democracy to future generations,” she said.

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