Professor and Director of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

“What people are waiting for is clarity about specific actions they can take to make a difference and some way of unlocking the vicious cycle we have gotten into.”
- Danielle Allen

Hari Sreenivasan of PBS NewsHour Interviews Danielle Allen








She’s an expert on the intersection of ethics and democracy and has weighed in on the variety of ethics and privacy concerns that have arisen during the coronavirus pandemic. Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, which Allen has directed since 2015, published the nation’s first comprehensive operational guide for mobilizing and reopening the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus crisis on April 20 (title: “Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience”). The takeaways are massively scaled up programs of testing, tracing, and supported isolation.


Political scientist with a background in classical literature; expert on the intersection of ethics and democracy; publishes on democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought


Before she joined Harvard in 2015, she taught at the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent postdoctoral research center in Princeton, New Jersey, from 2007 to 2014. She became the first African-American woman to chair the Pulitzer Prize board in 2014.   She taught classics and political science at the University of Chicago from 1997 to 2007 (and was Dean of the Division of Humanities for three years). She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2001 when she was 29 years old for her ability to combine “the classicist’s careful attention to texts and language with the political theorist’s sophisticated and informed engagement.”

In 2017, she made national headlines for discovering an early copy of the Declaration of Independence called “the Sussex Declaration” in southern England. She’s spent years studying the declaration in its various iterations and wrote a book in 2014 that grew out of her experience leading low-income night-school students through a line-by-line reading. (Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality).   In addition to that book 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 vs. the Board of Education (2004), Why Plato Wrote (2010), Education and Equality (2016), and Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. (2017). She is the co-editor of the award-winning Education, Justice, and Democracy (2013, with Rob Reich) and From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in the Digital Age (2015, with Jennifer Light). She is a former Chair of the Mellon Foundation Board, past Chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, and a member of the American Philosophical Society.   Together with Stephen B. Heintz and Eric Liu, Allen chaired the bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The commission, which was launched "to explore how best to respond to the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our political and civic life and to enable more Americans to participate as effective citizens in a diverse 21st-century democracy", issued a report, titled Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century, in June 2020. The report included strategies and policy recommendations "to help the nation emerge as a more resilient democracy by 2026."[18]   Allen is also the principal investigator for the Democratic Knowledge Project, a distributed research and action lab at Harvard University. The Democratic Knowledge Project seeks to identify, strengthen, and disseminate the bodies of knowledge, skills, and capacities that democratic citizens need in order to succeed at operating their democracy. The lab currently has three projects underway: the Declaration Resources Project, the Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Project (HULA), and the Youth and Participatory Politics Action and Reflection Frame.   She is a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.


Bachelor’s (A.B.) in Classics from Princeton University M. Phil and Ph.D.s in Classics from King’s College, Cambridge University (Marshall Scholar) Master’s (A.M.) and Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University


Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century, American Academy of Arts & Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, July 2020

Series of whitepapers on COVID since April, 2020. Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Selections include: “Why We Must Test Millions a Day,” “Policing a Time of Pandemic: Recommendations for Law Enforcement,” “Outpacing the Virus: Digital Response to Containing the Spread of COVID-19 While Mitigating Privacy Risks.” “Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience,” Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, April 20, 2020 (Allen is a co-author) “Opinion: The Bold, Necessary Step Trump Should Take Now,” The Washington Post, April 24, 2020 “Opinion: The Three Key Ideas at Stake for a Post-Coronavirus Future,” The Washington Post, April 20, 2020 “The Mechanics of the COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing Supply Chain: Version 2.0,” Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, April 16, 2020 (co-author)


The Ethics of Overcoming a Pandemic: Interview with Danielle Allen, Harvard Political Review July 20, 2020 “An Ethical Plan for Ending the Pandemic and Restarting the Economy,” TED Connects Series, April 6, 2020 The interviewer asks smart questions about privacy concerns with Allen’s recommendation that the country track positive coronavirus cases with peer-to-peer software on people’s cell phones. “'Road map' to recovery report: 20 million coronavirus tests per day needed to fully open economy,” ABC News, April 20, 2020 “Harvard Report Details Steps to Pandemic Resilience,” MSNBC News (Morning Joe), April 2020 “Think & Drink with Danielle Allen and Adam Davis,” Oregon Humanities, May 2019