History of the Archive
As Meredith Martin began writing The Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860-1930, she realized that the archival material that supported the book’s argument would not work in a traditional academic monograph. While still a graduate student, her advisor Yopie Prins suggested that she consult T. V. F. Brogan’s 1981 bibliography English Versification, 1570-1980 A Reference Guide With a Global Appendix, from which she began to gather primary materials; she supplemented these materials with others that were newly available online. The goal was to be able to search across the full-text of books and articles about English versification so as to open up the history of conversations, controversies, and accounts of English poetic form across centuries. From 2007 on, when she began to assemble the archive in earnest, she was in conversation with Brogan about the project; he passed away in 2012, and the Princeton Prosody Archive is dedicated to his memory.
What began as three-ring binders of printed PDFs turned into an unruly Endnote file in 2008, and, in 2009, was transformed into two rounds of linked articles in an early version of Zotero. Martin worked with then graduate student Amelia Worsley as the first research assistant on the project, and Worsley spent countless hours organizing materials. A frozen Firefox browser stalled one MacBook and three hard drives. In 2009, Martin began working with Grant Wythoff. The first two years of the project were related to gathering materials and figuring out how to organize them. When Wythoff joined the project, Martin received support from the Princeton University Humanities Council to hire a contract programmer to build full-text search functionality with page images in a MySQL database. This was unsuccessful. Martin and Wythoff realized that in order to truly make these materials available, they needed to engage with scholars of digital humanities and, ultimately, to begin a Digital Humanities Initiative at Princeton.
Concurrent to starting the Digital Humanities Initiative at Princeton (the gestational phase of what is now the Center for Digital Humanities), Martin and Wythoff shifted their focus away from journal articles when the Princeton’s Office of the General Counsel could not reach an agreement with Gale to allow for both full-text searching and page image displays for the periodical materials. With Wythoff’s help, the PPA partnered with Google Books and HathiTrust in 2011. The HathiTrust delivered more than 8,000 monographs—their full text and MARC metadata—for the PPA to host on its servers. In 2012, the PPA was awarded an Officer’s Grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to begin imagining a public version of the Archive.
In 2013, Martin and Wythoff hired Travis Brown, who was then working at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and who had built the Shelley-Godwin Archive. Brown developed the back end of PPA 2.0, which allowed users to browse and search through its fully indexed content; the materials to that site were provided by the HathiTrust. In essence, the database structure Brown built existed alongside a Drupal interface designed by Ben Johnston, who had consulted on the project since 2011 but whose work as an educational technologist prevented him from taking it on. Johnston was an early collaborator in the Digital Humanities Initiative at Princeton. The PPA held its first advisory board meeting in 2013 and invited scholars of digital humanities and the history of versification to campus.
The PPA interface worked well enough and the source materials from Hathi were available, but there was a big problem: Hathi delivered multiple digital surrogates of each book, one or more than one from each participating library. For instance, were one to search for Joseph Mayor’s Chapters on English Metre (1901), the PPA replicated Hathi in that it had six copies of this book: one from Harvard, one from Cornell, one from Michigan, and three from various University of California libraries. Meagan Wilson, who succeeded Wythoff as project manager, inherited the herculean task of locating all duplicate records, prioritizing which surrogates to keep based on consortium libraries and the quality of the scans, and hand-checking each choice to be certain that the record we were keeping matched HathiTrust’s metadata (which it often did not). This task occupied Wilson from 2014-2016.
As she reorganized the records and eliminated duplicates, Wilson also worked with Martin to identify records according to three categories: those that were part of Brogan’s original bibliography; those related to the pronunciation side of prosody that were part of Martin’s own additional research; and those that contained typographically unique material. Wilson then created “collections” that the site indexed, but as she worked, she became increasingly frustrated that each edit or correction required bothering Ben Johnston. She began to dream of a back end that she could access herself, add notes to, and track additions or deletions. She began to reimagine the front-end interface as well, and, along with Martin, wrote a proposal to redesign the website.
In 2016, the PPA redesign began—though slowly. Martin had devoted most of her time, since 2014, to the Center for Digital Humanities in her capacity as Faculty Director, pausing most of her own work on the PPA as Wilson worked to de-duplicate the records. By 2016, though the Center was still growing, the PPA partnered with the CDH to create the PPA 3.0. The site underwent an intense period of user experience testing over the course of 2017-2018, involving the members of the advisory board, who tested a beta version of the new site in May 2018. Mary Naydan took the lead as the project manager for the site as Meagan Wilson moved on to Ithaka S+R. Beginning in September 2018, Naydan worked closely with the CDH development team to complete the 3.0 version of the user front end and administrative back end; she has also been managing a team of undergraduate research assistants who are working to complete the editorial collections and to locate items cited in Brogan that are currently missing from the PPA. Their work is funded by grants from Princeton’s University Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (UCRHSS) and a Data Set Curation grant from the CDH. In 2019, the PPA will renew talks with Gale to imagine finally integrating articles into the interface.
Despite the many changes to the Archive over the years, scholars have nevertheless found their way to its resources. Though certainly incomplete, here is a list of scholarly sources and media outlets who have mentioned the PPA over the past several years.
- Cornelius, Ian. Reconstructing Alliterative Verse: The Pursuit of a Medieval Meter (Cambridge U P, 2017) (See citation)
- Jackson, Virginia. “Poe’s Common Meter” in The Oxford Handbook of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy and Scott Peeples (Oxford U P, 2018) (See citation)
- Gerber, Natalie and David Nowell Smith. “Editors’ Introduction: Intonation,” Thinking Verse V (2015): 1-14
- Rybak, Chuck. “Poetry,” Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments, MLA Commons
News & Blogs
- French, Amanda. “The 7 Best Links to Digital Poetry Projects from MLA,” Jan. 14, 2014
- Meyer, Leila. “Princeton Establishes Online Prosody Archive for Study of Poetry,” Campus Technology, Feb. 10, 2015
- “Princeton University English Department Works to Create Digital Prosody Archive,” Coldfront Magazine, Feb. 13, 2015.
- Zandonella, Catherine. “Princeton Prosody Archive brings digital tools to the study of poetry,” Princeton University, Feb. 9, 2015.