Natalie M. Phillips

C602 Wells Hall
619 Red Cedar Rd
East Lansing, MI 48824


Associate Professor
Literary Studies; Digital Humanities


Natalie Phillips is Associate Professor of English, Affiliated faculty in Cognitive Science Program, and founder and co-director of the Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab (DHLC) at Michigan State University. She specializes in 18th-century literature, the history of mind, cognitive approaches to fiction, and disability studies. Her first book, Distraction: Problems of Attention in Eighteenth-Century Literature, 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. Current experiments in progress at the DHLC include an fMRI study of literary attention and Jane Austen (MSU, Stanford), a neuroscientific study on the pleasures of poetry reading (MSU, NYU), a cross-cultural project on narrative perceptions of music (MSU, Princeton, Chinese University of Hong Kong), and most recently, Creativity in the Time of COVID-19: Art as a Tool for Combating Social Inequity and Injustice. Her second book project, tentatively entitled Literary Neuroscience and the Aesthetics of the Brain, grows out of this cross-disciplinary research, modeling a more reciprocal relationship between literature and neuroscience in interdisciplinary experiments and historicizing literary renderings of the brain from the eighteenth century to the present. She is also beginning another book project After leading Accessible Art initiatives with a focus on neurodiversity (2014-present), during COVID-19, she also has begun writing an autobiography about living with her disability, Teaching from the Floor: Adventures of a Neurological Disorder.

Phillips and the DHLC’s research has appeared in high-impact collections by Oxford UP, MIT Press, Routledge, Cambridge UP, etc. and been featured by NPR, BBC, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her multidisciplinary work also has been supported by a variety of national and international research grants and foundations, including ACLS/Mellon, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Teagle Foundation, and the Wallenberg Foundation of Sweden.

Awards and Honors


ENG 140: Literature and Society

ENG 211H: Foundations of Literary Study I

ENG280: Foundations of Literary Study II

ENG364: Literature and Mind: Thinking and Feeling in Eighteenth-Century Fiction

ENG457: Fictions of Mind in Eighteenth-Century Literature

ENG492H: Cognitive Science and the Literary History of Mind

ENG819: Literature and Psychology (Graduate Pro-Seminar)

ENG820: The Cognitive Eighteenth Century


“Literary Neuroscience and the History of Attention: An fMRI Study of Reading Jane Austen.” The Oxford Handbook for Cognitive Approaches to Literature. Ed. Lisa Zunshine. Oxford University Press. (January 2015).

“Literature, Neuroscience, and Digital Humanities.” Humanities and the Digital. Ed. Theo Goldberg and Patrick Svensson. MIT Press. (January 2015).

“The Art of Attention: Rhythms of Focus in Eighteenth-Century Poetry and the Novel.” Eighteenth-Century Poetry and the Rise of the Novel Reconsidered. Ed. Courtney Weiss Smith and Kate Parker. Bucknell University Press. (December 2013.)

“Distraction as Liveliness of Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Characterization in Jane Austen.”Theory of Mind and Literature. Purdue University Press (November 2010).

“Attention.” Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Ed. Roland Greene. Princeton University Press (July 2012).

University News

Students to Present Musical Cognition Research on National Stage
Published April 8, 2021 in College of Arts & Letters
zoom screen shot of two students
Grace Bonnema and Tushya Mehta, sophomores in the College of Arts & Letters, have been selected to present their research at the Council on Undergraduate Research’s Posters on the Hill, a…Read now »
Classes with CAL Spring 2021
Published March 23, 2021 in College of Arts & Letters
graphic of computer with green text
Take time during COVID to check out the innovative thinking in these talks presented by College of Arts & Letters faculty on the topics of wellbeing, learning a foreign language, and social…Read now »
$3 Million Grant Funds Exhibits of Art Created Globally During COVID-19
Published January 13, 2021 in College of Arts & Letters
three images of people put together; a man wearing a dark zip up and glasses (left), a women with short brown hair wearing a blue collar shirt and glasses (middle), and a women with long blonde hair wearing hoop earrings and a green scarf (right).
Michigan State University has begun collecting art from around the world in an exploration of how people are using creativity in coping with the challenges and stresses of the COVID-19…Read now »
UURAF First Place Winners Announced
Published April 11, 2019 in College of Arts & Letters
four adults standing around a poster and smiling at the camera
Several College of Arts & Letters students received first-place awards for their research and creative scholarship presented at the 21st Annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts…Read now »
New Speaker Series Celebrates Excellence in Interdisciplinary Research
Published March 8, 2018 in College of Arts & Letters
blue sky with a brick building
MSU’s Center for Interdisciplinarity (C4I) is offering a new series of presentations that celebrates innovative and influential interdisciplinary research involving the arts and…Read now »
Making Art Accessible to the Visually Impaired
Published November 17, 2017 in College of Arts & Letters
Woman touching tangible art
MSU’s Digital Humanities & Literary Cognition Lab, the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD), and Exceptions journal continue to carry on an MSU…Read now »
Students Create Accessible Art for Broad Exhibit
Published November 8, 2017 in College of Arts & Letters
"Accessible Art Event" written in white on a painted background featuring both black and bright colors
A one-day interactive exhibit at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, focusing on art accessibility across the visual ability spectrum, will feature creative work by MSU students in…Read now »
CAL Alumni Association Presents Faculty Awards
Published April 22, 2016 in College of Arts & Letters
group picture of faculty with awards
Joined by the College of Arts & Letters Alumni Association Board (photo bottom right), and CAL staff members, Acting Dean Elizabeth H. Simmons presented the 2015 CAL Alumni Association Faculty…Read now »
Faculty Honored for Research in Literary Neuroscience
Published March 4, 2015 in College of Arts & Letters
MSU assistant professor of English Natalie Phillips headed a study in which a person's brain flow was monitored while reading the works of Jane Austen. Preliminary results indicate reading activates regions of the brain not necessarily devoted strictly to reading.
Natalie Phillips, assistant professor of English at Michigan State University, has been awarded a Digital Innovation Fellowship by the American Council of Learned Societies. One of…Read now »