In the Classroom: A PPA-based Writing Assignment

In November 2017 and March 2018, Professor Sean Pryor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia assigned his students in ARTS2033 a writing task using the Princeton Prosody Archive. Pryor and his colleague Ben Etheringon at Western Sydney University ran a Historical Poetics reading group in 2016-2017 and convened a conference in 2017. As part of the conference, I presented the PPA to a group of students and professors. Please feel free to adapt Pryor’s assignment below for use in your own classrooms.


1000 words, including all quotations and footnotes, excluding bibliography


Step 1:

Choose a poem written or published between 1720 and 1920.* It may be a poem set for the course, but it need not be. Please ask for further suggestions if you would like.

Step 2:

Choose a feature or aspect of the poem to investigate. Examples include: ballad, dramatic monologue, free verse, ode, rhyme, and sonnet. Again, please ask for further suggestions if you would like.

Step 3:

Using one of the following online archives, find two or three sources which discuss your chosen feature or aspect. Use the archives’ search functions to find sources which were published within ten years of your poem. That is to say, if your poem was published in 1850, your sources should have appeared some time between 1840 and 1860.

[In addition to the Princeton Prosody Archive, Pryor suggested the Modernist Journals Project and British Periodicals (with whom we hope to begin collaborating soon).]

Step 4:

In your essay, discuss your chosen poem in the light of your sources. Does the poem conform to the theories which those sources propose? Do these past theories illuminate the poem in new ways for a twenty-first-century reader? Do we need to develop different ideas about the feature or aspect in question--ideas which are not represented in the sources contemporary with your poem--in order to come to a full and proper understanding of that poem?

*The reason we are choosing poems written or published between 1720-1920 is that these archives do not contain many texts produced before the eighteenth century, and copyright law prevents archives from reproducing texts published after 1923.