Women in the Academy: Julie K. Allen

By January 14, 2015

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. 🙂

Article filed under Gender Miscellaneous Women in the Academy


  1. Thanks, Professor Allen and Farina! I enjoyed this a lot.

    Comment by J Stuart — January 15, 2015 @ 8:06 am

  2. This is great. Thanks, Prof. Allen and Farina.

    Comment by David G. — January 15, 2015 @ 8:11 am

  3. Awesome.

    Comment by Ben P — January 15, 2015 @ 8:14 am

  4. I’m thrilled to see this series resurrected. Thanks, Farina, for taking the initiative, and thank you, Professor Allen, for participating. Your work sounds fascinating.

    Comment by Christopher — January 15, 2015 @ 10:01 am

  5. I wanted to ask Professor Allen: How do you maintain your personal well-being in the balance of being an aspiring scholar, wife, and mother?

    Comment by Farina — January 15, 2015 @ 10:34 am

  6. Thank you as well, Professor Allen, for participating in this blog series of “Women in the Academy.” I think of you as an inspiration. You are one of the most brilliant people that I have met, but most importantly, you are one of the most humble and kindest people that I have met. You did not speak about it in your interview, but I will never forget seeing your strength and glow as a scholar, wife, mother, and woman when you were fighting cancer recently after having your fourth child and keeping up with your responsibilities as a professor and scholar in a prestigious program. You amaze me! Thank you!

    Comment by Farina — January 15, 2015 @ 10:37 am

  7. Thanks for such high praise, Farina. There are definitely times when I feel, as Bilbo Baggins says, “like butter scraped over too much bread,” when my to-do list goes out the door, everybody seems to want something from me, and I just can’t do it all. I read a lot of books for pleasure–while I’m eating breakfast, brushing my teeth, right before bed–and that plays a major part in maintaining my personal well-being. I’m fortunate that Madison is such an easy place to live an active life–I get to do a lot of walking in the course of my day and can eat amazing food all year round. My husband’s active involvement in our family life and household responsibilities is by the far the most important factor in my personal juggling routine, though. During my cancer treatments, so many more people stepped up to help out that we made it through without falling apart entirely. Thanks for that blond wig you gave me!

    Comment by Julie Allen — January 15, 2015 @ 12:06 pm

  8. Hi, Julie!! What a wonderful interview and impressive responses. I have loved getting to know you better on this format and at MHA in San Antonio (where we reintroduced ourselves in a hot tub!), after 20 years apart from our first meeting on the BYU London Study Abroad program. Frankly, and sheepishly, had I known that our life paths and academic interests would have so much in common over these years, I would have been more diligent in carving out a deeper friendship with you when we had the first opportunity. I wish I could have a re-do, but in the meantime, I hope we can continue on as great colleagues and friends in the Mormon Academy.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — January 15, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

  9. Thanks to you both! Enjoyed it.

    Comment by Ryan T. — January 15, 2015 @ 12:58 pm

  10. Thanks for this, great interview.

    In regard to decoupling Danish citizenship and Lutheranism and the resulting religious toleration, did Mormonism’s identity as Christian or non-Christian matter? How did this play out in Denmark?

    Thanks ahead of time!

    Comment by Jeff T — January 15, 2015 @ 4:35 pm

  11. Thanks for the interview.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — January 15, 2015 @ 5:45 pm

  12. This is a wonderful interview! Thanks so much, Prof. Allen and Farina!

    Comment by Rachael — January 15, 2015 @ 8:49 pm

  13. @Jeff: The question of whether or not Mormonism could be considered Christian was one of the central issues that the Danish reception (including the Kierkegaards) took up. The missionaries tended to be very confrontational about it, denouncing the Danish Lutheran church as non-Christian, and Danish Lutheran pastors tended to return the favor. Nowadays it is less heated a discussion, in large part since the Danes’ self-identification as Christian is so much less relevant to their individual and collective identities.

    Comment by Julie Allen — January 15, 2015 @ 8:51 pm

  14. I actually do have a question for Prof. Allen (and anyone else who can contribute insights) about archival research and care for children. I think one of the things that might make history uniquely difficult to juggle with young children or infants is the need to travel abroad for extended periods of time for archival research. Seeing as you had two children while in grad school, I would love to know how you handled the demands of archival research with your family (if that was an issue for you–unless you completed your research before having children). Thanks for being such a great role model for women, including myself!

    Comment by Rachael — January 16, 2015 @ 5:46 am

  15. Thanks for your question, Rachael. I’ve had to tackle the question of how to do archival research with small children many times over the past 13 years. I spent one year in grad school on a Fulbright in Denmark to do dissertation research in an archive there while I had a toddler and was pregnant with baby #2. Making that work required my husband to quit his job to come with us, though as it turned out Denmark has such fabulous subsidized childcare that it might have been possible for me to do it on my own if I had had to. Shorter research trips tend to be more of a hassle, since there is no time to establish a network of support like I had in Denmark.

    Bear with me for a fairly lengthy example of what I mean. I took my 3rd child with me to Europe when he was not quite 3 months old for research and a couple of conferences, for which I cobbled together a variety of different caregivers. During the first conference in Odense, Denmark, I hired the daughter of a friend to take care of my baby in my hotel room so that I could attend sessions and run back down to nurse him; after the conference, in Copenhagen, I took my baby with me to the archive in his stroller and tried to do research while he napped (which was only marginally successful); we then went to Berlin, where my parents were serving a mission, and I left him with them for a couple of days while working in a film archive; finally, at the second conference in Finland, although I had planned on hiring a sitter through the hotel, a Finnish students attending university in Berlin who attended my parents’ Institute classes put me in touch with the YSA group in Helsinki, who stepped up and provided volunteers to take care of my son in shifts during my conference there.

    That trip was productive in many ways, but more for the conferences than the research. Since then, I have avoided taking nursing babies with me to archives (though I still took them to conferences when I had to) and have tended to schedule week-long research trips that allow me to travel alone and cram in 14 hour days. My husband is great to single parent while I’m on those trips, but I do try to schedule them when the kids are in school and to arrange additional childcare and easy meal-prep options to make life easier for him (and enable him to get his own work done).

    Comment by Julie Allen — January 16, 2015 @ 9:28 am

  16. Rachael,

    I have also tried to do archival research with young children/toddlers in tow. It is possible, but it can be very, very difficult. I would suggest trying to do it when they are younger if possible, especially if you won’t have childcare. Young babies tend to sleep a lot and there is a chance you might actually get something done. Once they get older, they are less willing to nap and stare into space while you do research. A supportive husband/parents who are willing to travel also help a lot. My mom frequently watches my baby while I am doing archival work. It helps that I research Mormons and my mom lives in SE Idaho. That being said, every time I try to arrange archival trips and take the kiddo with me., I end up wondering if it was worth it. It just curtails how much you can get done so much. Honestly, now that she isn’t breastfeeding, I’ll probably leave her at home and let my husband deal with her after daycare and on non-daycare days.

    Comment by Amanda HK — January 16, 2015 @ 3:19 pm

  17. Thanks, Julie and Amanda, for your helpful insights. It sounds like there are lots of ways to make it work, with a flexible attitude, some legwork, luck, and good support systems. I’ve read worrisome things about parental separations at very young ages, but it’s not always easy for spouses or extended family to be so mobile, either; sounds like a wild ride, any way you do it! Thanks again for the feedback.

    Comment by Rachael — January 17, 2015 @ 11:51 am

  18. Dear Julie
    I hope this finds you well. I am trying to find out about the paper you/Women in German co-sponsored at the Chicago IBS symposium in 2014 called:
    Fifty Shades of Brecht: Vulnerability versus Autonomy among Brecht?s Female Collaborators. Is there anyway of getting a copy of the paper?
    Sorry to contact you via this forum but I was finding it difficult otherwise.
    Kind regards
    Sally Homer

    Comment by Sally Hoer — January 26, 2015 @ 4:19 pm

  19. Hi Sally,

    Unfortunately I don’t have the papers for the 2014 MLA panel on “50 Shades of Brecht.” I organized and chaired the panel, but we didn’t precirculate the papers. If there was a particular paper you really wanted, you could conceivably contact the presenter directly. Feel free to email me at jkallen@wisc.edu if you want me to put you in touch with Helen Fehervary, Paula Hanssen, or Ute Bettray.

    Comment by Julie Allen — February 9, 2015 @ 1:36 pm


Recent Comments

Daniel Stone on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Thanks much for posting this, Joey!”

Mel Johnson on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “This JWHA will be outstanding, maybe the best ever. I encourage all Restoration historians and cultural studies people to attend along with their friends. The setting at…”

Gary Bergera on George F. Richards' journals: “I remember reading through the microfilms of the Richards's journals in the mid- to late-1970s. Nothing was redacted. They were amazing.”

Jeff T on George F. Richards' journals: “Thanks, Stapley!”

Hannah Jung on George F. Richards' journals: “That is exciting! I had no idea this was in the works! Any idea when the plan is to release the next twenty years of…”

Ben S on CFP at BYU Studies:: “Some clarifying comments here. https://benspackman.com/2019/10/23/byu-studies-evolution-and-faith-some-clarification/”