Princeton Prosody Archive Launches a Bold New Site

“A major, searchable, innovative archive for the study of poetry & what people think about poetry”

— Robert Dale Parker (James M. Benson Professor of English, University of Illinois)

“It's a tremendous, brilliant project—truly marvelous/stunning—the best of a DH platform to access literary history in a concise & focused way. Excited to play around with it in the coming weeks to come, & wondering if I might plot an undergrad course around some searches in the meantime.”

— Danny Snelson (Former PPA board member, Assistant Professor of English, UCLA)

The thousands of digitized works in the Princeton Prosody Archive are now publicly available on the archive's new and improved website. The searchable site means centuries' worth of texts are right at your fingertips.

The PPA is the flagship project of the Center for Digital Humanities. Started in 2016, PPA 3.0 is the result of a truly collaborative effort by a project team of 9 members. But this launch is really closer to 12 years in the making and involved many more hands, including a total of 10 CDH staff members, 2 external developers, 5 graduate students, 3 undergraduates, and 25 past and current advisory board members, who traveled to Princeton for 2 day-long advisory board meetings. A full list of project history and project contributors is available on the site.

The new PPA site boasts a playful and inviting new look based on the bright colors and cool tones of the ’80s. The design concept is a nod to T. V. F. Brogan, whose authoritative annotated bibliography English Versification, 1570-1980, A Reference Guide with Global Appendix (1981) served as the original source for the Prosody Archive. Brogan, a literary scholar and computer programmer, created an online version of the project in hypertext Adobe Acrobat PDF format in 1998 that is still housed at Oregon State University under the auspices of the journal Versification. Though the links in EVRG (Brogan’s name for the PDF version of the book) are long broken, they bear the bright blue traces of Brogan’s hopes for an online version of the project that could provide a network of discourse prior to the turn of the century. The new and improved version of the PPA finally realizes Brogan’s “dream of the 80s.”

But the changes to the site aren’t purely cosmetic. The development and design teams worked closely to reimagine the site’s architecture and search functionality to create a faster and more intuitive user experience. Now, users can:

  • Conduct more powerful searches by keyword, title, and author, using Boolean searches, advanced Apache Solr syntax, and fielded searches of metadata
  • Reliably sort their results by relevance, alphabetically, or chronologically
  • See the amount of works per year at a glance by looking at our new histogram feature, which visually shows the distribution of works across a set minimum/maximum year span
  • Filter by collection, including automatically excluding “Dictionary” and “Word List” content in order to yield more relevant search results

Through former Project Manager (and English Department Graduate Student) Meagan Wilson’s painstaking labor over the course of two years, the PPA refined its holdings by eliminating duplicate copies of works that were skewing users’ search results as a result of the initial file transfer from HathiTrust.

The PPA now contains 7 new hand-curated editorial collections, which users are able to search within and across. These collections show the range of materials found within the Prosody Archive, and the interdisciplinary appeal, from scholars of linguistics and historical poetics, to book historians, to lexicologists, to musicologists:

  • Dictionaries - often materials relating to prosody and pronunciation appear in appendices to dictionaries
  • Linguistic - grammar books and guides to rhetoric & composition, elocution, and speech
  • Literary - versification manuals, as well as essays on poetry and prosody
  • Music - works about vocal performance, tone & pitch, and the pronunciation of poetry in song
  • Original Bibliography - the foundational collection of works cited in Brogan’s 1981 bibliography
  • Typographically Unique - works that use musical notation, invented diacritical marks, phonetic scripts, universal alphabets, and more common marks for stress
  • Word Lists - pronunciation guides and rhyming dictionaries

We’ve added an Editorial section that features essays written by project director Meredith Martin, members of the project team, and others. This section of the site will be updated regularly with new content about the complexities of this Digital Humanities project, the groundbreaking research derived from the PPA, and ideas for how to use the PPA in the classroom.

We’re especially proud of CDH’s responsive design that is usable on tablet and mobile, whether you’re reading the essays or searching the archive.

And though the general user will never see this, the project maintains a robust administrative back end that allows project team members to:

  • Make corrections to HathiTrust metadata that allow users to access the most accurate information about the materials on our site
  • Supplement records with notes on editions to provide users with important information not found in HathiTrust
  • Add bibliographic citations for post-1923 works still in copyright
  • Add new works from HathiTrust (and potentially other sources)

Like all CDH projects, the PPA boasts a code base that is open source, tested, documented, and citable--representing the very best of development practices. Other developers can use our code to build their own collections based on HathiTrust materials on any subject whatsoever.  

The PPA has some exciting plans to expand its collection in the next year. Martin has recently secured a partnership with Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO), a periodical database licensed by Gale Cengage. This partnership will allow the PPA to expand its existing holdings of 4,838 HathiTrust works to include hundreds of thousands of works hosted by ECCO. Collaborating with Cengage (who own the various databases marketed by Gale) and beginning negotiations with ProQuest are major tasks for the coming year, as these commercially indexed periodicals would allow us to include excerpted journal articles in the PPA--and achieve Brogan’s dream of a digital network of English prosody scholarship beyond what he could have ever imagined.

 

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