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

Deborah Jenson

I take the broad mandate of the humanist very seriously: my research is diverse. In the field of neuroscience and the humanities, my work includes an article on mirror neurons and literary bio-mimesis with neuropsychiatrist Marco Iacoboni, a course called "Flaubert's Brain: Neurohumanities," and several projects related to traumatic stress, cognition, and culture. In the arena of Global Health and the History of Medicine, we are working with Haiti Lab students on topics ranging from the history of cholera in Haiti and the Caribbean (see our article and digital map in Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2011) to the history of anthropological psychiatry in Haiti, to post-disaster mental health. I am also researching slaves' African ethnic identities in 18th century Saint-Domingue through study of ads for runaway slaves.

Contact Info:
Office Location:  205 Language Center, Durham, NC 27708
Email Address: send me a message

Teaching (Fall 2015):

    Smith Wrhs 177, TuTh 03:05 PM-04:20 PM
    (also cross-listed as ROMST 220.01)
Teaching (Spring 2016):

    Languages 305, M 04:40 PM-07:10 PM

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. Deborah Jenson, Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution (2011; paperback 2012), pp. 322, Liverpool University Press
  2. Deborah Jenson (with Warwick Anderson and Richard E. Keller), Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignties (2011), pp. 328, Duke University Press
Conferences Organized

  • Director : 3rd Annual Romance Studies Undergraduate Research Conference. March 2013, Director, March, 2013  
  • Selection Committee, Nineteenth-Century French Studies Conference. December 17, 2012, December 2012  
  • Orgaanizer : 'Old' Worlds, 'New' Worlds, Future Worlds Romance Studies Undergraduate Research Conference. March 2012, Orgaanizer, March, 2012  
  • Selection Committee, NIneteenth-Century French Studies Conference. 2011, 2011  
  • Co-Organizer : Haiti Lab Workshop, "Unveiling the Colonial System": The Baron de Vastey and the Henry Christophe Regime. December 2011, Co-Organizer, December, 2011  
  • PFIRST Workshop, "Discourses of Trauma in Haiti" (Co-Organizer). November 2011, 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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