Princeton Prosody Archive: Rebuilding the Collection and User Interface

Meredith Martin (, Princeton Prosody Archive, Princeton University Center for Digital Humanities and Meagan Wilson (, Princeton Prosody Archive, Princeton University Center for Digital Humanities and Mary Naydan (, Princeton Prosody Archive, Princeton University Center for Digital Humanities

The PPA collects and displays historical documents prior to 1923, bringing to light little-known texts about the study of language, the study of poetry, and where and how these intersect and diverge. By gathering these documents into one place, the PPA tracks the development of English poetry as a subject of study and shows how this development bridges a variety of discourses, most prominently the rise of linguistic nationalism and linguistic imperialism, but also the advent of stadial history and historiography, the rise of phonetic science and the beginnings of historical linguistics, and a variety of related pedagogical movements that evolve from rhetoric through to elocution and the study of “speech.” The PPA is the only large-scale corpus focused specifically on the study of poetry in the English language. Materials in the archive include grammar handbooks, poetic treatises, versification manuals, elocution guides, histories of literature, editorial introductions, phonetic tracts, and journal articles pertaining to the measure and pronunciation of poetry. By viewing prosody broadly and collecting these materials into one archive, scholars can finally see how the histories of English poetics and linguistics are intertwined, and how the story of English poetic development, alongside the development of historical linguistics, increasingly borrowed, co-opted, imitated, erased, or “civilized” poetic forms from other languages.

Critical attention to these poetic histories and debates are the foundation of Historical Poetics. In addition to scholars of Historical Poetics, the PPA’s audience is teachers of poetry, scholars of poetry, linguists, practicing poets, historians of language, historians of pedagogy, scholars of sound studies, scholars of rhetoric, and lexicographers—all of whom can use the PPA to discover the emergence of a disciplinary term, trace its evolution, or determine its ties to national or political debates. Finally, computer scientists and digital humanists are eager to run textual analytic algorithms on a curated data set that might reveal previously unknown or unexpected results such as the most frequently reprinted poetic example or the most frequently repeated (perhaps without attribution) definition of a particular term.

“Rebuilding the Collection and User Interface,” the PPA’s poster and interactive demonstration for DH2018, showcases the immense data-refinement and metadata-cleaning performed by the PPA since its DH2014 poster session. After launching our new website in May 2018, we are well-positioned to discuss the strengths and struggles of curating and designing an interactive website that relies on HathiTrust Digital Library content. In this way, the PPA sees itself as a project similar to Early American Cookbooks, recently published as a HathiTrust case study in
Code4Lib. “Legacy MARC data for early books held in special collections presents particular challenges,” Gioia Stevens writes; “Cleaning and standardizing this legacy data is an essential step in analyzing special collections metadata as a dataset rather than as individual records” (Stevens, 2017). This has proven especially germane to the PPA. From 2015 to 2017, the PPA refined its core collection by eliminating 3,729 duplicate works through a complex and painstaking metadata cleaning process. These duplications were the result of our initial file transfer from HathiTrust and the replicas were skewing users’ search results. The PPA offers a case study in the challenges posed by working with unstandardized metadata. In addition to addressing the benefits and drawbacks of our collaboration with HathiTrust, our poster session aims to highlight how our new interface guides users toward the database’s implicit and explicit arguments, highlights unusual content, and provides pathways for discovery.

Appendix A

  1. Stevens, Gioia. (2017). “New Metadata Recipes for Old Cookbooks: Creating and Analyzing a Digital Collection Using the HathiTrust Research Center Portal.” Code4Lib
    37, (accessed 1 May 2018).

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