Deborah Jenson

Professor of Romance Studies

External address: 
112 Language Center, Box 90257, Durham, NC 27708
Internal office address: 
Box 90257, Durham, NC 27708-0257
(919) 668-0337


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."

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Harvard University 1994

  • M.A., University of Paris (France) 1985

  • B.A., Bowdoin College 1983

Seminars in Historical, Global, and Emerging Humanities awarded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2014 to 2017

Kadish, D, Jenson, D, and Shapiro, TBN. Poetry of the Haitian Independence. Trans. N Shapiro. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015. (Edited Book)

Jenson, D. Beyond the Slave Narrative: Sex, Politics, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution. Liverpool University Press, 2011. (Monograph)

Jenson, D, Anderson, W, and Keller, RE. Globalizing the Unconscious. 2011.

Anderson, DJWW, and Keller, RE. Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignties. Duke University Press, 2011.

Jenson, D, and Kadish, D. Sarah, An English Translation. MLA Editions, 2008.

Jenson, D, and Kadish, D. Sarah, The Original French Text. 2008. (Edited Book)

Cixous, H. "Coming to Writing" and Other Essays by Hélène Cixous. Ed. D Jenson. Trans. D Jenson, S Cornell, A Liddle, and S Sellers. Harvard University Press, 1992. (Edited Book)

Jenson, D. "Toussaint Louverture, genio 'cimarrôn' y multimodial." Toussaint Louverture: repensar un icono. Ed. M Past and NM Léger. Santiago de Cuba: Casa del Caribe, 2015. 217-230. (Chapter)

Jenson, D, and Curtis, L. "The Haitian Revolution." The Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. Ed. P Mason. Gale, 2013. 277-284.

Jenson, D. "Placing Haiti in Geopsychoanalytic Space: Toward a Postcolonial Concept of Traumatic Mimesis." Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Trauma, and Sovereignty. 2011.

Jenson, D. "Surrealism and the Avant Garde Novel, and The Decadent Novel." The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Novel. 2011.

Jenson, D. "The Writing of Disaster in Haiti: Signifying Cataclysm from Slave Revolution to Earth Quake." Haiti Rising. Ed. M Munro. Liverpool University Press, 2010. 103-112.

Jenson, D. "Francophone World Literature (Littérature-monde) Cosmopolitanism, and Decadence: ‘Citizen of the World’ without the Citizen?." Transnational French Studies: Postcolonialism and Littérature-monde. Ed. A Hargreaves. Liverpool University Press, 2010. 15-35.

Jenson, D. "Francophone World Literature (Littérature-monde), Cosmopolitanism and Decadence: 'Citizen of the World' without the Citizen?." Transnational French studies : postcolonialism and littérature-monde. Ed. A Hargreaves, C Forsdick, and D Murphy. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2010. 15-35. (Chapter)

Jenson, D. "Mirror Revolutions: Ourika and Saint-Domingue." "Approaches to Teaching Claire de Duras’s ‘Ourika,’” ed. Mary Ellen Birkett and Christopher Rivers (New York: Modern Language Editions, 2009) pp.45-50. 2009.

Miller, DJWCL. "Historical Timeline." Approaches to Teaching Claire de Duras’s ‘Ourika,’” ed. Mary Ellen Birkett and Christopher Rivers (New York: Modern Language Editions, MLA Editions, 2009) pp.12-17. 2009.

Jenson, D. "Toussaint Louverture, Spin Doctor? Launching the Haitian Revolution in the French Media." Tree of Liberty: Legacies of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. University of Virginia Press, 2008. 41-62.


Jenson, D. "Neuroscience and the Poetics of the Haitian Declaration of Independence." Ed. J Gaffield. (2014). (Academic Article)

Crichlow, MA, Northover, P, and Jenson, D. "Introduction: Caribbean Entanglements in Times of Crises." The Global South 6.1 (April 2012): 1-14. Full Text Open Access Copy

Jenson, D, and Dubois, L. "Humanities in the Lab: Rethinking Haitian Studies." Diversity and Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures 15 (2012).

Jenson, D. "Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon." RESEARCH IN AFRICAN LITERATURES 43.3 (2012): 135-136. Open Access Copy

Jenson, D, Szabo, V, and Duke FHI Haiti Humanities Laboratory Student Research Team, . "Cholera in Haiti and other Caribbean regions, 19th century." Emerg Infect Dis 17.11 (November 2011): 2130-2135. Full Text Open Access Copy

Jenson, D, Szabo, V, and Team, TDFHIHLSR. "Cholera in Haiti and Other Caribbean Regions, 19th Century." Emerging Infectious Diseases (CDC) 17 (November 2011): 6-6. (Academic Article) Open Access Copy


Jenson, D, Desormeaux, D, Bongie, C, Kadish, D, and Nesbitt, NF. "The Haiti Issue: 1804 and Nineteenth-Century French Studies." Ed. D Jenson. Yale French Studies 107 (2005). (Journal issue)

Szabo, V, Jenson, D, Cloninger, E, Corbett, P, Hoyle, M, Ivker, J, Jernigan, E, Mitril, S, Neville, A, Patel, D, Duke University Haiti Laboratory, and John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, . "19th-Century Caribbean Cholera Timemap." (2011).

Jenson, D, and Dubois, L. "Haiti Can Be Rich Again." New York Times (January 8, 2012). (Scholarly Commentary)

Jenson, D. "The Haiti Issue." Yale French Studies 107 (2005).

Haiti: History Embedded in Amber. Director. (2011)


24 Duke faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates in the FHI Haiti Lab worked with Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié to design representations of Haitian culture, especially post-earthquake culture, embedded in amber-like resin blocks. Durham metal sculptor Andrew Preiss of the ARP Design Studio designed the frame and lighting for the permanent installation of the artwork in the Ahmadiev Family Lecture Hall of the Franklin Humanities Institute in Bay 4 of Smith Warehouse, Duke University. The website features "story blocks" detailing the individual artist's narrative accounts of their work.