Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon

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Deborah Jenson

Professor of Romance Studies

I am a scholar of "long 19th century" in French and Caribbean literature and culture, cognitive literary studies, health humanities, and global health. Running through all my research, teaching, and outreach is the problem of representation and mimesis, on axes from social contagion to rhetoric to mirror neurons. Here are some ways to think about my work:

  • Research: recent articles on: Sylvia Wynter, cognitive exceptionalism, and Global South Philosophy in PMLA; Haitian psychiatrist Louis Mars in American Psychologist; Cognition in Keywords for Health Humanities, "Creole" poetry by Marceline Desbordes-Valmore in Cahiers Marceline Desbordes-Valmore), and qualitative representations of epilepsy in Epilepsy and Behavior. My most recent edited volume is a research topic with Marco Iacoboni and Len White on Representation in Neuroscience and Humanities in Frontiers. Monographs, edited volumes, editions, and translations include: Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution; Trauma and Its Representations: The Social Life of Mimesis in Post-Revolutionary France; Poetry of Haitian Independence (with D. Kadish and N. Shapiro); Unconscious Dominions: Psychoanalysis, Colonial Trauma, and Global Sovereignty (with W. Anderson and R. Keller); Sarah, A Colonial Novella (with D. Kadish); and "Coming to Writing" and Other Essays by Hélène Cixous.
  • Public humanities: co-founder and co-director of the Haiti Lab (2010-2013), founder and co-director of the Health Humanities Lab (2015-2020), and co-founder and co-director of the Neurohumanities Research Group (2013-) at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.
  • Pedagogy: my teaching builds on the interdisciplinary nature of my work, from "Flaubert's Brain: Neurohumanities," "Pandemic Humanities: Reimagining Health and Medicine in Romance Studies," and "Trauma and Global Health," to "Mimesis in Theory and Practice," "Global Humanities in French," and "Sylvia Wynter and Caribbean Philosophy." After previously co-teaching with Felwine Sarr on African Philosophy, we are developing a course on African and Caribbean Philosophy.
  • Administrative leadership: my experience at Duke includes directing the Franklin Humanities Institute, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and co-directing the Brain & Society theme of Bass Connections, along with P.I.ship of grants including the Mellon "Humanities Futures" grant at FHI, and co P.I.ship with Ed Balleisen of the NEH Next Generation "Versatile Humanists" grant.
  • For a profile of one of my remarkable undergraduate students in French, see this feature on Marshall Scholar Julie Uchitel: https://today.duke.edu/2022/05/duke-alumna-awarded-knight-hennessy-scholarship.

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