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Deborah Jenson, Professor of Romance Studies and Director of John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute and Research Professor of Global Health and Faculty Network Member of Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

Deborah Jenson

As the Director of the Franklin Humanities Institute I work with faculty and students in 18 departments and programs in the humanities, arts, and interpretive social sciences to work toward a vibrant future of humanities contributions to the Duke mandate of "Knowledge in the Service of Society." The Franklin Humanities Institute created the first higher educational model of a rotating set of humanities labs: collaborative, vertically integrated spaces where a team of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students and project partners from any domain reinvent pedagogy and research outputs in the service of the lab's strategic theme and community. 
Our newest humanities lab, the Health Humanities Lab, which I will co-direct with Psychiatrist/Anthropologist Brandon Kohrt, in collaboration with the Duke, University of Virginia, and University of Bologna "Academy in Global Humanities," represents a partnership between Provost Sally Kornbluth and Duke Health Chancellor Eugene Washington. The Health Humanities Lab will bring more campus humanities interaction to the larger world of Duke Health. The Franklin Humanities Institute is also partnering with the Duke Global Health Institute to locate this new lab in Trent Hall, in close proximity to the area studies units in the Franklin Center, the bioethics and humanities faculty at the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine, and of course the Duke Medical School, Clinics, and Hospital. Applying humanities and interpretive social science methodologies to health research can provide a critical lens on the hidden complexity of familiar Western health-related variables, such as socioeconomic status, race / ethnicity, or sexuality, improve outcomes of culturally-embedded health behaviors, reduce provider burn-out and improve patient/provider communication. At the same time, health humanities strives to incorporate non-Western medical humanities traditions and participants, including patients and communities, to create a more diverse, inclusive, and democratic model of health knowledge creation. Outreach to patients as participants in this dialogue offers fresh encounters toward the goal of, in the words of Provost Kornbluth, "finding novel ways of thinking about health and what it truly means to be 'well.'"

My doctoral training at Harvard University, working with the interdisciplinary scholar Barbara Johnson, was on trauma and social definitions/practices of mimesis in post-revolutionary French literature; my first monograph, Trauma and Its Representations, was published with Johns Hopkins UP in 2000. I subsequently turned my attention to the literary culture of a contemporaneous mega-event in the "Age of Revolution," the overthrowing of the French colonial army of Napoleon Bonaparte by the former slaves of the colony that became the nation of Haiti. While publishing special issues and edited volumes in this new research area, which included the study of Kreyòl and Caribbean history, literature, and culture, I worked toward my second monograph, Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution (Liverpool UP, 2011). My most recent co-edited volumes are also my favorites: Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignty (Duke UP 2011), with historians of medicine Warwick Anderson and Richard Keller, and an annotated bilingual volume of largely unpublished poetry from the first half century of Haiti's national history, Poetry of Haitian Independence (Yale UP, 2015) with distinguished poetic translator Norman Shapiro and French studies collaborator Doris Kadish.  I am ever closer to completion of a new monograph, From Marx to Mirror Neurons: Essays on Social Mimesis, and a co-authored book on trauma and global mental health in Haiti. 
My French and Haitian literary and cultural studies began to bridge health and neuroscience domains, first through interdisciplinary collaborations, first at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then at Duke. My secondary appointment in Global Health began in 2013, and I have collaborated with the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences through Bass Connections, the Neurohumanities Research Group, and the Duke Neurohumanities in Paris Global Education summer program. 
Through the years I have served in directorial administrative roles at units including the UW Madison Center for the Humanities, the Duke Center for French and Francophone Studies, the Duke Center for Caribbean and Latin American Studies, and the Franklin Humanities Institute. My most recent articles were on the topics of the brain science of literacy and the compelling political proclamations of Haitian Revoutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and on Marcel Proust's virtuosic representations of involuntary memory as a his attempt to work through the memory deficits that had been implicitly diagnosed by his father, physician Adrien Proust, as the neurasthenic "Search for Lost Memory."

Contact Info:
Office Location:  112 Language Center, Box 90257, Durham, NC 27708
Email Address: send me a message

Teaching (Spring 2018):

    Soc/Psych 128, TuTh 01:25 PM-02:40 PM
    (also cross-listed as LIT 246.01, NEUROSCI 241.01)
    LSRC D243, W 01:40 PM-04:10 PM
    (also cross-listed as LIT 540S.01)

Ph.D.Harvard University1994
M.A.University of Paris (France)1985
B.A. Bowdoin College1983

French Studies
Caribbean Studies
Research Interests: French and Haitian Studies; Global Health; "Neurohumanities"

Current projects: Haitian Ethnopsychiatry, Trauma and Global Mental Health, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Flaubert and Epilepsy, Literary Representations of the Brain

I take the broad mandate of the humanist very seriously. The overlapping problems of representation and imitation in "mimesis" are at the heart of my research and teaching, but the contexts in which I explore them are diverse. Trauma, as crisis in the continuity of internal representations of the real, reveals the complexity of mimetic experience. Historical transitions to new forms of representation, such as the adoption of the political proclamation by former slaves in the Haitian revolution, teach us to see literary conventions, or literacy itself, with new eyes. Neuroscientific exploration of "mirror neurons" raises the question of whether we form cognitive imitations of others' experience simply by observing their motor actions. In summary, my linguistic, literary, and historiographical skills can be directed to French literature, Haitian studies, trauma and global mental health, or "neurohumanities."


Caribbean Region • Cholera • Haiti • History, 19th Century • Humans • Poetry


Secondary Appointment, Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI) Graduate Faculty, Women's Studies Faculty Affiliate, the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Co-Director, Haiti Lab Co-Director, Brain & Society, Bass Connections Co-Director, Duke Neurohumanities in Paris Co-Convener, Neurohumanities Research Group

Representative Publications   (More Publications)

  1. Jenson, D, Neuroscience and the Poetics of the Haitian Declaration of Independence, edited by Gaffield, J (Accepted, 2015)
  2. Kadish, D; Jenson, D; Shapiro, TBN, Poetry of the Haitian Independence (forthcoming, 2014), pp. 360 pages, Yale University Press (translated by Shapiro, N.) [ref=sr_1_1]  [abs]
  3. Jenson, D; Iacoboni, M, Literary Biomimesis: Mirror Neurons and the Ontological Priority of Representation, California Italian Studies (2011) [3sc3j6dj]
  4. Jenson, D; Szabo, V; Duke FHI Haiti Humanities Laboratory Student Research Team, , Cholera in Haiti and other Caribbean regions, 19th century., Emerging infectious diseases, vol. 17 no. 11 (November, 2011), pp. 2130-2135, Centers for Disease Control [22099117], [doi]  [abs]
  5. Deborah Jenson, Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution (2011; paperback 2012), pp. 322, Liverpool University Press
  6. Jenson, D, Kidnapped Narratives: Mobility without Autonomy and the Nation/Novel Analogy, in A Companion to Comparative Literature, edited by Ali Behdad and Dominic Thomas (November, 2011), pp. 369-386, Blackwell Press [repository], [doi]
  7. Anderson, DJWW; Keller, RE, Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignties (2011), pp. 328-328, Duke University Press
  8. Jenson, D, The Common Without Copies, the International Without Cosmopolitanism: Marx Against the Romanticism of Likeness, Rethinking Marxism, vol. 22 no. 3 (2010), pp. 420-433 [repository]
  9. Jenson, D, Hegel and Dessalines: Philosophy and the African Diaspora, New West Indian Guide, vol. 84 no. 3-4 (2010), pp. 4-9, ISSN 1382-2373 [repository]
  10. Jenson, D, Dessalines’s American Proclamations of the Haitian Independence, The Journal of Haitian Studies, vol. Vol. 15 no. No. 1 and 2 (2010), pp. 72-102 [repository]  [abs]
  11. Jenson, D, The Writing of Disaster in Haiti: Signifying Cataclysm from Slave Revolution to Earth Quake, in Haiti Rising, edited by Munro, M (2010), pp. 103-112, Liverpool University Press [publication.asp]
  12. Jenson, D; Kadish, D, Sarah, An English Translation (2008), MLA Editions
  13. Jenson, D, Francophone World Literature (Littérature-monde) Cosmopolitanism, and Decadence: ‘Citizen of the World’ without the Citizen?, in Transnational French Studies: Postcolonialism and Littérature-monde, edited by Hargreaves, A, vol. 1 (2010), pp. 15-35, Liverpool University Press [publication.asp]
  14. Jenson, D, Toussaint Louverture, Spin Doctor? Launching the Haitian Revolution in the French Media, in Tree of Liberty: Legacies of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (2008), pp. 41-62, University of Virginia Press
  15. Jenson, D, Before Malcolm X, Dessalines: A ‘French’ Tradition of Black Atlantic Radicalism, edited by Hargreaves, A; Mourra, J-M, International Journal of Francophone Studies, vol. 10 no. 3 (2007), pp. 329-342 [ijfs.10.3.329_1]
  16. Jenson, D, Fétichisme de la marchandise: la poésie des courtisanes noires ou de couleur à Saint-Domingue, in Relire l’histoire et la littérature haïtiennes, edited by Ndiaye, C (2007), pp. 27-56, Presses nationales d’Haïti
  17. Jenson, D, Myth, History, and Witnessing in Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s Caribbean Poetics, edited by Paliyenko, A, L’Esprit Créateur, vol. 47 no. 4 (2007), pp. 329-343, ISSN 0014-0767 [html]
  18. Jenson, D, The Haiti Issue, Yale French Studies, vol. 107 (2005)
  19. Jenson, D, Trauma and Its Representations: The Social Life of Mimesis in Post-Revolutionary France (2001), pp. 294 pages, Johns Hopkins UP
Conferences Organized

  • Director : 3rd Annual Romance Studies Undergraduate Research Conference. March 2013, Director : 3rd Annual Romance Studies Undergraduate Research Conference, March, 2013  
  • Selection Committee, Nineteenth-Century French Studies Conference. December 17, 2012, Selection Committee, Nineteenth-Century French Studies Conference, December 2012  
  • Orgaanizer : 'Old' Worlds, 'New' Worlds, Future Worlds Romance Studies Undergraduate Research Conference. March 2012, Orgaanizer : 'Old' Worlds, 'New' Worlds, Future Worlds Romance Studies Undergraduate Research Conference, March, 2012  
  • Selection Committee, NIneteenth-Century French Studies Conference. 2011, Selection Committee, NIneteenth-Century French Studies Conference, 2011  
  • Co-Organizer : Haiti Lab Workshop, "Unveiling the Colonial System": The Baron de Vastey and the Henry Christophe Regime. December 2011, Co-Organizer : Haiti Lab Workshop, "Unveiling the Colonial System": The Baron de Vastey and the Henry Christophe Regime, December, 2011  
  • PFIRST Workshop, "Discourses of Trauma in Haiti" (Co-Organizer). November 2011, PFIRST Workshop, "Discourses of Trauma in Haiti" (Co-Organizer), November, 2011  
  • Co-Organizer (with Michaeline Crichlow (Duke, Sociology and AAAS, Patricia Northover (UWI, SALISES), Matthew Smith (UWI, History, Faculty of the Human, Co-Organizer (with Michaeline Crichlow (Duke, Sociology and AAAS, Patricia Northover (UWI, SALISES), Matthew Smith (UWI, History, Faculty of the Human, June 18-19, 2010  

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