Faculty Honored for Research in Literary Neuroscience

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 only seven scholars to receive such an award, the council recognized Phillips’ research on literary cognition. In a recent study, subjects read the works of Jane Austen while researchers measured their brain flow in an MRI.

Preliminary results indicate reading activates regions of the brain not necessarily devoted strictly to reading.

“This project brings together scholars in literature, cognitive science and digital humanities to explore how work in the new field of literary neuroscience can revitalize and expand tools and methods in the digital humanities,” said Phillips, co-director of MSU’s Digital Humanities and Literary Cognition Lab, housed within the College of Arts and Letters. “In expanding the networks and maps central to digital data analysis to include the human body, this project advances digital scholarship by connecting traditionally broad-scale algorithms to a micro-analysis of embodied reading.”

Selected from a highly competitive field of applicants, the 2015 awardees will dedicate a year to projects that further the digital transformation of humanistic research. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funds the program. 

“ACLS’ Digital Innovation Fellowships support scholars employing sophisticated computational methods to open new avenues of inquiry into complex humanistic problems,” said John Paul Christy, director of public programs at ACLS. “And this year’s lineup of awardees shows just how vibrant and diverse this work can be. The 2015 fellows will pioneer new techniques in textual analysis and sound studies, trace the far-flung lives of texts as they cross linguistic and national boundaries and bring long- underrepresented voices into the digital scholarly domain.”

The American Council of Learned Societies, a private, nonprofit federation of 72 national scholarly organizations, is the preeminent representative of American scholarship in the humanities and related social sciences. Advancing scholarship by awarding fellowships and strengthening relations among learned societies is central to ACLS’ work.

In 2015, ACLS will award more than $15 million to more than 300 scholars across a variety of humanistic disciplines.