Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Literary Cognition Lab
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NPhillips.jpeg Natalie Phillips is Assistant Professor of English at Michigan State University, specializing in 18th-century literature, the history of mind, and cognitive approaches to fiction. Her first book, Distraction: Problems of Attention in Eighteenth-Century Literature, (forthcoming, Johns Hopkins University Press, Spring 2016) 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.

Phillips is co-founder of the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab in the Department of English at MSU. Current experiments include an fMRI study of literary attention in reading Jane Austen (Stanford, MSU) and a neuroscientific study of attention and aesthetic pleasure in poetry reading (NYU, MSU). Phillips is delighted to have been supported by a variety of research grants and foundations: most recently the ACLS Digital Innovations Fellowship (2015-17) and a Science Studies grant at MSU (2015-16). She was also invited to participate in Beauty and Beyond, a global collaboration grounded at NYU devoted to developing interdisciplinary experiments on the neuroaesthetics of art, music, and literature. Future studies include an eye-tracking study of fiction reading practices on digital media (Wallenberg Foundation), new experiments on poetry, music, and cognitive rhythm (TAP lab, MSU), and a project in-progress on empathy and trauma narratives (MSU, Duke). This work has grown into her second book project, tentatively entitled Literary Neuroscience and the Aesthetics of the Brain, which theorizes a more reciprocal relationship between literature and neuroscience in interdisciplinary experiments and historicizes literary renderings of the brain from the eighteenth century to the present. 


Steve Rachman.png Steve Rachman is Associate Professor in the department of English, Director of the American Studies Program and Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Literary Cognition Laboratory at Michigan State University. 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). He has written numerous articles on Poe, literature and medicine, cities, popular culture, and an award-winning Web site on Sunday school books for the Library of Congress American Memory Project.

He is a past president of the Poe Studies Association and currently completing a study of Poe entitled The Jingle Man: Edgar Allan Poe and the Problems of Culture.

Over 20 years, he has worked on a number of other cultural projects with DH components. He created a study of a remarkable series of nineteenth-century paintings by a highly regarded Cantonese export artist known as 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 the following link.



Graduate Students:

Cody Mejeur (Graduate Lab Lead) is a 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. He is a graduate lab lead in the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab, and helps lead the studies on Jane Austen, Neuroaesthetics and Poetry, and Music and Cognition. He is also adjunct faculty at Ivy Tech Community College. He currently teaches broadly in literature, games, culture, and composition.


Undergraduate Students

Lana-Grasser.jpgLana Grasser (General Lab Lead)

Lana Grasser is the lab lead at the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition lab. She is in her final year at MSU, studying neuroscience and dance. While working on various projects in the lab including functional connectivity, concreteness of narrative and memorability, and the collaboration with NYU on the neuroaesthetics of poetry, she has had the opportunity to present at Posters on the Hill in Washington D.C., Michigan Society for Neuroscience, UURAF, MID-SURE, and the Lyman Briggs Research Symposium. She hopes to pursue a PhD in translational neuroscience, focusing on arts and movement therapies for psychiatric disorders.

Sal-Antonnuci.jpgSal Antonnuci

Sal Antonucci is a third year undergraduate student studying in the honors college. In 2018, he hopes to graduate with a major in English and minors in Philosophy and the Digital Humanities. Currently, Sal’s main role in the DHLC is as the Neuroaesthetics Group lead. In his individual analysis, he hopes to investigate the link between metaphors and aesthetic pleasure within poetry.

Karah Smith.pngKarah Smith (Music and Narrative)

Karah is a senior from DeWitt, Michigan double majoring in English and Psychology with a minor in Digital Humanities. Prior research experience includes her work with the MSU Sociolinguistics Lab as a field researcher her freshman and sophomore years collecting voice recordings for a project called IHELP (the Influence of Higher Education on Local Phonology). Karah has collaborated on the Neuroaesthetics poetry study and in Literary Neuroscience study using Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. After graduation, Karah hopes to either work in the nonprofit sector or the publishing industry before returning to graduate school to continue conducting research in either English or Psychology.

Mohan-Gupta.jpgMohan Gupta (Brain Data)

Mohan Gupta is a 4th year studying neuroscience & psychology with a minor in cognitive science. He has been conducting research in the DHLC since his freshman year and is the current Brain Data lead. He has been involved in multiple research projects outside of the lab from a visual agnosia case study to investigating increases in motor performance. Mohan is a world traveler, having been to over 15 countries in his college career and has even studied at the University of Geneva. He aspires to get his PhD in cognitive psychology or a related field where he hopes to investigate mechanisms of cognitive limits and fatigue in reading.