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College of Arts and Letters | Michigan State University




Natalie M. Phillips

Co-Director of DHLC and Lead Faculty for Literary Neuroscience and History of Mind


Assistant Professor

Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture

C602 Wells Hall
Phone: 517-884-4412

Natalie M. Phillips, Assistant Professor of English at Michigan State University, specializes in 18th-century literature, the history of mind, and cognitive approaches to narrative. Her first book project, Distraction: Problems of Attention in Eighteenth-Century Literature (in progress) 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. 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. She is co-founder of the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab in the Department of English at MSU, and Lead Faculty for Literary Neuroscience and History of Mind.  In addition, she is a collaborating scientist with Stanford University, Lund University, and Umea for a research initiative, "Culture, Brain, and Learning," supported by the Wallenberg Foundation of Sweden.  Current experiments include an fMRI of literary attention (Neuroventures), an eye-tracking study of digital media (Wallenberg Foundation), and a project-in-progress on narrative empathy and stories of trauma. This work has grown into her second book project, tentatively entitled Literary Neuroscience and the Aesthetics of the Brain, 1700-2012, 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.

Phillips' research has been supported by the American Council for Learned Societies, the Mellon Foundation, the Wallenberg Foundation, the TEAGLE Foundation, the Stanford Center for Neurobiological Imaging, the Stanford Humanities Center, the MSU College of Arts and Letters, and the Royal Bibliographic Society. Her work on Jane Austen and the history of attention has appeared in Theory of Mind and Literature and the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and new essays in literary neuroscience and the history of mind are forthcoming in the Oxford Handbook for Cognitive Approaches to Literature (Oxford, 2013); Eighteenth-Century Poetry and the Rise of the Novel (Bucknell, 2013); and Humanities and the Digital (MIT Press, 2013).