Deborah Jenson

Director, Franklin Humanities Institute

Co-Director, Health Humanities Lab

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."