Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Digital Humanities & Literary Cognition Lab
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Lab Members


Natalie M. Phillips

Natalie Phillips is a Professor of English at Michigan State University, specializing in 18th-Century literature, history of mind, and cognitive approaches to fiction. In her first book, Distraction: Problems of Attention in Eighteenth-Century Literature, Dr. Phillips traces how changing Enlightenment ideas about the unfocused mind reshaped literary form, arguing that descriptions of distraction in narrative advanced–and often complicated–scientific theories of concentration. Her research on attention has appeared in collections by Oxford UP, MIT Press, and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Additional 18th-century research interests include the history of science, race and gender studies, the history of the book, critical interdisciplinary theory, and cultures of reading. She is also a leading figure in the emerging field of literary neuroscience, pioneering a series of interdisciplinary experiments that use neuroscientific tools, such as fMRI and eye tracking, to explore the cognitive dynamics of literary reading. Natalie is the co-founder of the DHLC and currently serves as its director.

Stephen Rachman

Steve Rachman is an Associate Professor in the Department of English, Director of the American Studies Program and co-founder of the Digital Humanities & Literary Cognition Lab. He is the editor of The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz-Hugh Ludlow (Rutgers University Press). He is a co-author of the award-winning Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow (Oxford University Press) and the co-editor of The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe (Johns Hopkins University Press). Dr. Rachman has also written numerous articles on Poe, literature and medicine, cities, popular culture, as well as an award-winning website on Sunday school books for the Library of Congress American Memory Project. Steve is a past president of the Poe Studies Association and is currently completing a study of Poe entitled The Jingle Man: Edgar Allan Poe and the Problems of Culture. For over 20 years, Steve has worked on a wide range of cultural DH projects. For example, he created a study of a remarkable series of nineteenth-century paintings by a highly regarded Cantonese export artist named Lam Qua. The paintings depict the Chinese patients of a leading medical missionary–Reverend Dr. Peter Parker, an American Presbyterian minister and physician who opened a hospital in Canton in the 1830s. For more information, see he following link: http://www.historicalvoices.org/lamqua/index.php.


Karah Smith
Lab Manager

Karah_bio.pngKarah Smith serves as the Lab Manager for the Digital Humanities & Literary Cognition Lab. Here, her role is to engage in and facilitate interdisciplinary research, participate in grant writing and administration, expand DH initiatives, and mentor graduate and undergraduate researchers in work that encompasses a wide range of fields including English, psychology, education, music, neuroscience, and more. Karah is an MSU alumna with degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in Digital Humanities. As a student, Karah’s work in the DHLC involved: analyzing data from a previous fMRI study on attention and the neuroscience of reading; collaborating with students and faculty to develop a behavioral study that measured aesthetic pleasure responses to poetry; and leading the development of pilot study that examined the stories and narratives people imagine when listening to orchestral music. Prior to becoming involved with the DHLC, Karah worked as a field researcher for the MSU Sociolinguistics Lab, collecting voice recordings for a project called IHELP (The Influence of Higher Education on Local Phonology). Her personal research interests include literary cognition, Theory of Mind, 19th-century Literature, psychoanalysis, the neuroscience of reading and language acquisition, and digital humanities.

Graduate Students

Melissa Klamer
Graduate Assistant


Melissa Klamer is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English specializing in digital humanities and the posthumography of Victorian women authors, emphasizing diaries and letters. Her digital dissertation project will create a scholarly digital edition of an 1835 manuscript diary, and explores the intersections of motherhood, life writing, and literary professionalism in the Victorian period. Melissa also serves as an Editor on the Digital Mitford Project, transcribing and encoding Mary Russell Mitford's correspondence in TEI-XML. She has worked as a graduate research assistant at MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences and currently in the Digital Humanities Literary Cognition Lab at MSU.

Cody Mejeur

Cody-bio.pngCody Mejeur is an English PhD student specializing in new media, game studies, cognitive narrative theory, semiotics, and digital humanities, focusing on video game narrative. His work proposes new ways of theorizing the interaction of narrative and play in video games, and he has published on methods for using games in pedagogy and queer representation in BioShock. In his time at MSU so far, Cody has served as a graduate lab lead as well as a Graduate Research Assistant in the DHLC. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Ivy Tech Community College and teaches broadly in literature, games, culture, and composition.

Soohyun Cho
Neuroaesthetics Co-Lead

Soohyun-bio.pngSoohyun Cho is an English Ph.D. student whose professional interest lies in crime fiction and cognitive approaches to literature. She has with both the Neuroaesthetics study as well as the Music and Narrative study. Soohyun is currently serving as the Co-Lead for the DHLC’s Neuroaesthetics project.


Jessica Kane


Jessica Kane is an English Ph.D. student who focuses on gender and narrative authority in eighteenth-century British works written by women. She works with the DHLC on both the Jane Austen study and the ongoing Music and Narrative study. 



Undergraduate Students

Salvatore Antonucci
Undergraduate Lead


Salvatore Antonucci is the Undergraduate Lead of the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab. While his academic interests are vast, he mainly studies Literature and is also pursuing minors in Philosophy and Digital Humanities. During his sophomore and junior years, Sal worked predominantly within the DHLC’s Neuroaesthetics group on their experiment concerning poetry and aesthetic pleasure. During those years, he has presented original, award winning research at MSU’s undergraduate research conference, UURAF. As the Lead of the Neuroaesthetics Group, he led investigations that borrowed methodologies from  Literary Studies, Linguistics, Digital Humanities, and Statistics in the to explore how certain poetic elements affect readers’ aesthetic judgments. In addition to this, Sal is now collaborating with a team of faculty to prepare the experimental design of the fMRI-phase of the poetry study.

Courtney Bennett
Music & Narrative Co-Lead


Courtney Bennett is a senior majoring in English, and is the Co-Lead of the Music & Narrative Group at the DHLC. She has a concentration in Creative Writing and also studies psychology and visual art with the hopes of pursuing a Master's Degree in Art Therapy after graduation. Courtney is currently the president of MSU's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society, and she will be working with Dr. Phillips and Exceptions Journal to organize an Accessible Art Event and Showcase at the Eli and Eyde Broad Art Museum this year. During her time with the DHLC, Courtney has presented locally at UURAF and nationally at NCUR on research projects titled "Literary Analysis and Physical Objects" and "Pop Culture's Influence on the Stories We Hear in Music."

Emily Vaughan
Neuroaesthetics Co-Lead

emily-bio.pngEmily is a senior graduating in the spring of 2018 with two bachelors degrees in English and Spanish. This year she will be the Co-Lead for the neuroaesthetics of poetry group within the DHLC, leading students on a project that focuses on how readers respond to aesthetic elements of sonnets. This is Emily's third year working in the DHLC, and she has participated and presented on many projects within the lab including the Jane Austen fMRI study and the Music and Narrative study. Outside of the lab, Emily is a member of the MSU Honors College and is the Student Supervisor for the Office of Admissions' Tour Guide Program. After graduation, Emily will be attending law school. 

Kendall Hughes
Music & Narrative Co-Lead

Kendall-bio.pngKendall is a senior at MSU majoring in English with a minior in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Women and Gender Studies. She is the Co-Lead of the Music & Narrative Group at the DHLC for the upcoming academic year. Kendall is a member of the Honors College and is involved in the Global Educators Cohort Program at MSU. After graduation, Kendall hopes to teach English abroad. Within the DHLC, Kendall's research has focused on the stories people hear in music and, specifically, on how pop culture has influenced the types of stories people superimpose onto orchestral music. Kendall has presented nationally with her colleagues in the lab at NCUR, hosted at the University of Memphis last April. In the future, Kendall plans to research how gender is used in the music-inspired narratives. 

Addison Wood
Brain Data Lead

Addy-bio.pngAddy Wood is a second year student studying neuroscience and psychology with a minor in cognitive science. This is his second year with the DHLC, and he is currently the Brain Data Group Lead. He became interested in neuroscience after performing experiments investigating neuroplasticity in high school, and plans to expand his academic career in the future by pursuing a PhD in cognitive science or a similar filed. 

Alex Babbitt

Alex-bio.pngAlex Babbitt is a senior at MSU studying English with a minor in French. His research focuses on the Music Narrative study, and he presented some of his work at UURAF last year giving a poster presentation titled, "An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Stories We Hear in Music". Alex has a wide range of interests and besides working in the DHLC, he also holds positions as a SARV peer educator and Curator of TEDxMSU. Previously, he has worked as an Intercultural Aide, an Undergraduate Research Assistant in Plant Biology, and has spent this past summer (2017) working at a youth development center in New York City. After graduation Alex hopes to continue doing research, taking an interdisciplinary approach to human centered research.

Babs Hough


Babs Hough is a second year MSU student majoring in Humanities-Prelaw and Business Management. As a member of the DHLC, she works on the neuroaesthetics of poetry study helping to collect and analyze participant data. The study measures pleasure responses to poetry in an attempt to understand a reader's aesthetic pleasure and displeasure reactions to reading a sonnet. Using both qualitative and quantitative data, the study involves many disciplines and methods of analysis. Previously Babs has worked in the Geography department researching entrepreneurship and spinoff dynamics. Her personal interests include society and law, and how the humanities relates to and impacts these fields. 

Derrick Dwamena

Derrick-bio.pngDerrick Dwamena is a second-year student at MSU majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in International Development. He is the recipient of a MasterCard Foundation Scholarship and is a team member of the Brain Data group working on designing new models for the analysis of fMRI data as well as on the collection and analysis of data from experiments with the poetry and music narrative studies. After graduation, Derrick hopes to work on research relating to Alzheimer's Disease and Epilepsy.

Taylor Ryan

Taylor-bio.pngTaylor Ryan is a senior at Michigan State studying English with minors in economics and educational studies. Her research focuses on the Music and Narrative study, and she presented some of her work at UURAF last year giving a poster presentation titled, "An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Stories We Hear in Music." During her time at MSU, Taylor served for two years as an Intercultural Aide and another year as a Resident Assistant. She has previously worked in the Early Language and Literacy Lab, transcribing and entering data for several different projects. After graduation, Taylor hopes to one day pursue a career in Educational Policy. 

Ben Horne

Ben-bio.pngBenjamin Horne is a junior majoring in Neuroscience and is a member of the Brain Data group within the DHLC. Ben is an ASMSU representative for Lyman Briggs College, where he is also a Chemistry Learning Assistant. After graduation, Ben hopes to enter PA school and continue his education.




Lana Grasser; B.S. Neuroscience, 2017
Mohan Gupta; B.S. Psychology, 2017
Michael Kabbash; B.S. Human Biology, 2017
Kristen Bilyea; B.A. English, 2017
Karah Smith; B.A. English, B.A. Psychology, 2017
Jacob Frazier; B.A. Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy, 2018
Lauren Straley; B.A. English, 2016
Katie Grimes; B.A. Professional Writing, 2016
Ritu Narayan; B.A. English, Education, 2016
Madison Meter; Interdisciplinary Humanities, 2016
Savannah Smith; B.A. English, Education, 2015
Anna Stirling; B.A. English, Education, 2015
Becky Avila; B.A. English
Thilani Jayakody; B.S. Botany & Plant Biology, Genomics & Molecular Genetics, 2018

Erin Beard; Ph.D. English, 2016
Phillip Dooley; B.S. Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, 2018
Morgann Brafford; B.S. Psychology, Anthropology, Bioethics, 2017
Jasdeep Bathla; B.S. Human Biology, 2017
Kristina Persenaire; Ph.D. English, 2015
Craig Pearson; B.S. Neuroscience, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, English 2014
Shannon Sears; Ph.D. English, 2014
Inez Garzaniti; B.S. Neuroscience, 2014
Ania Pathak; B.A. Philosophy, B.S. Physiology, 2013
Kirsten Mayfield; B.A. English, 2014
Andrea Zuchora; B.A. English, Psychology, 2014
Lauren Gaynor; B.A. Professional Writing, 2016
Laura McGrath; Ph.D. English, 2018
Truman Silvasi; B.S. Human Biology, 2014
Victoria D'Aquila; B.A. Arts and Humanities, English, Secondary Education, 2012
Nathan Leaman; Ph.D. English
Katie Greulich; Ph.D., English
Shan Kothari
Austin Gorsuch
Connor Swanson
Maura Carter