Princeton University English Department Works to Create Digital Prosody Archive

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Prosody, or the rhythm and intonation of speech and verse, has long been an area of study and concern for poets. Until recently, exploration of the evolution of prosody in poetry, its transformation over time, has been nearly impossible to map. However, a recent project at Princeton University is innovating the methods of research used for studying prosody, allowing poets and scholars access to “more than 10,000 digitized records on the teaching of poetry between 1750 and 1923,” according to

Professor of English at Princeton, Meredith Martin saw a great need for a “searchable” database. So, in 2011, Martin enlisted the assistance of “computer scientists and librarians.” The project, called the Princeton Prosody Archive, is a database that provides digital versions of “historical documents” that include marks of prosody such as “accents or breves.” From these documents, scholars are able to track the modifications to our prosody over time.

Previous forms of this type of digitization were largely ineffective, as “typical optical character recognition technology cannot recognize or digitize the prosodic marks,” according to Leila Meyer of Therefore, databases like Google Books were not sufficient in the study of prosody.

The archive is expected to be fully available to the public by 2017. Read more about the Princeton Prosody Archive here.