Julie K. Allen joined the Scandinavian Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. She received her PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Harvard University in 2005. Her research focuses on questions of national and cultural identity in nineteenth and twentieth century Danish, German, and Scandinavian-American culture.
She has published on the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and his brother Peter Christian Kierkegaard, the social and literary critic Georg Brandes, the author Hans Christian Andersen, and the silent film star Asta Nielsen. She is the author of Icons of Danish Modernity: Georg Brandes and Asta Nielsen (University of Washington Press, 2012), the co-translator of The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen (Norton, 2007), and the editor of More than Just Fairy Tales: New Approaches to the Stories of Hans Christian Andersen (Cognella, 2013). She is currently at work on a book with the working title Religious Difference and Cultural Identity in 19th Century Denmark, which deals with the ways in which the establishment of religious freedom through the Danish constitution of 1849 decoupled Danish citizenship from Lutheranism, opening the door for new religious groups and requiring the redefinition of Danish cultural identity.
Short personal bio: I was born and raised in the fairly small town of Laie, Hawaii, which I will likely always consider to be my home, even though I’ve now lived in Madison, Wisconsin for 9 years, more than half of my married life. I’m married, with four kids, and I love to travel, to eat, to sing, and to read.
What formal education have you received?
I’m a public school girl, the product of Laie Elementary and Kahuku High School on the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii. I spent my junior year in Schorndorf, Germany, where I learned lots of German (but woefully little physics, chemistry, or math). I went to BYU-Provo for my Bachelor’s degree in German and European Studies, with an English minor. While there, I spent a year at the University of Hamburg, two spring terms at BYU-Hawaii, a summer term in London, and one in Vienna. I got my Master’s and PhD degrees from the Germanic Languages and Literatures department at Harvard.
How did you become interested in your area (s) of expertise/specialization?
I’ve always been interested in books and history, but the year I spent in Germany in high school really got me hooked on European studies. Going back for another year in college and then serving a mission in Denmark reinforced my interest in all things German and introduced the comparative aspect that has informed my work on cross-cultural encounters and national identity construction.
What are you currently studying, or what are some of your current projects?
During my sabbatical in Spring 2014, I was finally able to finish my book on the reception of Mormonism in 19th century Denmark. The tentative title of the book is “Danish but not Lutheran,” and it has chapters on the theological response to the arrival of the Mormons by Søren Kierkegaard, his brother the Rev. Dr. Peter Christian Kierkegaard, and Baroness Elisa Stampe, who was a devout Grundtivigian; on street ballads mocking emigration and polygamy; on silent films and cabaret songs that point out how well Danes can sin without the help of Mormons; and self-representations by Danish Mormons of the period. It was a lot of fun to write and I hope to see it published in the next year. I’m currently working on a project, with a colleague at University College London, about how literature, film, and tourism “brand” certain places, inside and outside Denmark, as “Danish,” as well as commencing a new project on the intersection of place, gender, and religious practice in the lives of African women in Scandinavian diaspora.
What has your experience been like “in the academy”? What roles has gender played in those experiences?
My experience of “the academy” has been very affirming and, to be quite honest, exhilarating. I have received incredible support from my family, friends, husband, children, professors, neighbors, and complete strangers throughout my education and career. I have been aware of the possibility of gender discrimination, but have not experienced it first-hand. I’ve been blessed with four children (two while in grad school and two while on the tenure track) and have been frustrated by the lack of parental leave support, but my babies were obliging enough to be born in the springtime, which allowed me summers of (unpaid) maternity leave. I’ve really enjoyed having a flexible teaching and research schedule, so that I can be home with my kids after school most of the time, even though this has occasionally lured me into thinking that I can be both a full-time stay-at-home mom and a full-time professor. (I have accepted that I am not a full-time stay-at-home mom, but I do object to being excluded from the category of full-time mom, since that is something I most certainly am). Perhaps the most pervasive way in which gender has played a role in my career has been with regard to my husband, who has been terrifically supportive of me while completing his own B.A., M.A., and PhD degrees, but who has not received the same level of validation for his accomplishment of these goals while raising a family that I believe a woman in his equivalent situation would have.
Who are some people (living or dead) in your field you admire? Why?
My field is rather hard to define, so I’ll take this question broadly. I have always admired Laurel Thatcher Ulrich for her kindness, her humor, her compelling writing, her intellectual gifts, and her example of being both a mother and a scholar. I owe a tremendous debt to the gifted, dynamic faculty of the BYU German department in the 1990s, in particular Tom Plummer, Alan Keele, Jamie Lyon, and Scott Abbott, who exemplified the joys of being both a scholar and a teacher and showed me how to integrate faith with scholarly inquiry. I am in awe of my sister, Jen Black, who teaches at Boise State, for her love of both learning and teaching, her enthusiastic, ongoing pursuit of becoming a better teacher, and her confidence in me.
For someone who is interested in studying what you do, what are some books or experiences you would recommend?
This is another tough question, because “what I do” encompasses so many different fields. For those interested in Scandinavian Mormonism, I’d recommend both William Mulder’s book Homeward to Zion and Jesper Stenholm Poulsen’s De danske Mormoner. For people interested in the Danish silent film star Asta Nielsen, the Danish literary critic Georg Brandes, or the question of Denmark’s societal transition into the modern age, I’d recommend my own book, Icons of Danish Modernity, which I’m still rather infatuated with. 🙂 For people interested in Hans Christian Andersen, I recommend Maria Tatar’s Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, which offers gorgeous illustrations and very helpful, thought-provoking annotations of about twenty of his fairy tales. Experiences are easier to recommend—live abroad! Anywhere you can, for as long as you can. And read lots and lots of books, of all different kinds.
What has your experience been like as a Mormon in the academy? How have your Mormonism and sex/gender intersected in the academy?
My experience of being a Mormon in the academy has been very harmonious, on the whole. Once or twice I’ve found myself in an awkward situation, where a distinguished colleague has made a random disparaging comment about Mormonism and I’ve had to decide whether to throw the fact (of which they were not aware) of my Mormon affiliation in their face, but on the whole, it has been a non-issue. I used to sidestep the question of how I learned Danish by explaining that I had “done volunteer work for my church in Denmark,” but I tired of that and began to enjoy the blink of surprise that I get when I recount that I was a Mormon missionary in Denmark, which is usually followed by interested questions.
I never intended to write about Mormonism, but it just happened. I collaborated with David Paulsen, a BYU philosophy professor, on an annotated translation of the Rev. Dr. Peter Christian Kierkegaard’s treatise About and Against Mormonism (1855), which got me interested in all of the other treatments of Mormonism in 19th century Danish popular culture, which led to the book I just wrote. I talked about the Brothers Kierkegaard and Mormonism for my job talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since I got the job, I think it was well received. 🙂