Princeton Prosody Archive

Compelling users to rethink the past through a collection of historical prosodic works.

  • Project Director

  • Meredith Martin
  • Project Manager

  • Meagan R. Wilson
  • Technical Lead

  • Rebecca Sutton Koeser
  • Project Designer

  • Rebecca Munson
  • User Experience Designer

  • Xinyi Li
  • Project Alum

  • Collette Johnson

In its most general sense, “prosody” refers to the study of both versification in poetry and pronunciation. Versification includes a poem’s rhythm, meter, and rhyme and other formal features (alliteration, lineation, fixed forms like the sonnet). Pronunciation is a bit more contentious, but relates to accent, tone, cadence, pitch, and anything that concerns how a poem might sound when read out loud. Historical prosodic materials show how poets and critics theorized poetry, how it was taught in schools, and how debates about pronunciation were inflected with national discourses (e.g. eradicating or preserving dialects), and how each of these changed over time. Scholars of aesthetics, of literary history, of the history of the English language, of linguistics, of education, and of comparative literature will find that prosodic discourse reveals the genealogy of many critical concepts – such as what qualifies as a sonnet, how to distinguish between an iamb and an anapest, and where we find the influence of (for example) Aristotle’s or Hegel’s ideas about poetic form.

In short, the Princeton Prosody Archive (PPA) is an incomplete, yet full-text searchable database of thousands of digitized prosodic works published between 1569 and 1923. It collects historical documents and highlights discourses about the study of language, the study of poetry, and where and how these intersect and diverge. The PPA makes several arguments and welcomes new scholarship based on the work it gathers. Some of our initial questions include: What if we began to understand poetics in all of its historical, linguistic, and educational valences? What if literary concepts such as meter and rhythm are historically contingent and fundamentally unstable? What might scholars of distant reading the novel learn from a collection of materials pertaining to the study and philosophy of poetry?

Rather than a static repository of historical data, the PPA compels users to rethink the past and future of organizing, navigating, conceptualizing, and historicizing large amounts of data – about a single poem or about evolving and contradictory thinking about the technology of poetic language. Active since 2007, the PPA is using the 2015-2016 academic year to strategically identify and assemble the key missing prosodic texts from its core collection while sharing its findings with leading researchers in historical poetics and digital humanities.