Mary Naydan *23 (English), longtime CDH graduate project manager of the Princeton Prosody Archive (PPA), recently joined the CDH as digital humanities project manager. Mary talked to us about her experiences at the CDH as a graduate student, her PM philosophy, and more!
Tell me about your new role at the CDH.
I am the Digital Humanities Project Manager, which is a new position at the CDH. Half of my time this year will be spent on preparing for and executing the final project phase of the Princeton Prosody Archive, the CDH’s flagship project. The other half will be spent on providing project management support and guidance for CDH-sponsored projects (such as the Simulating Risk Research Partnership between Rebecca Koeser and Lara Buchak). I’ll also be coordinating the Humanities Accelerator, a new consultation program at the CDH in collaboration with the Office of the Dean for Research and the Vice Dean for Innovation that gathers together a group of experts to advise project teams on project goals/plans and connect them to campus resources.
When/how did you become interested in DH?
Meredith Martin was one of the English professors I came to work with at Princeton in 2016, and she had just built the newly created Center for Digital Humanities, so it was a natural place for me to go as I was looking for ways to get involved outside of my department. I was really interested in the conversations that were taking place at the time about what humanities data was and about ethical considerations around computational approaches. Even though my dissertation ended up taking a more traditional form, my work at the CDH really shaped my thinking about the partiality of digital archives, genre categories as metadata, and audiences as “users” —topics central to my dissertation, which made heavy use of digital archives to study how people used the Anglo-American fantasy genre in the interwar period.
You have been involved with CDH since 2016. Can you tell me more about other roles and experiences you’ve had over the past few years?
I’ve worn many different hats at the CDH during my seven years as a graduate student! I started out as the Graduate Student Assistant, helping with the newsletter and events, and I also worked for a year as a researcher for the Shakespeare and Company Project, encoding borrowing events on library cards using XML-TEI. Then in 2018 I became the project manager for the Princeton Prosody Archive, which has been my main role since. Because of my longterm experience with the PPA, I was then promoted to Senior Project Management Fellow, a concurrently-held position in which I mentored new project managers. One of my favorite experiences was attending DH2018 in Mexico City with a lot of my CDH colleagues. It’s been a privilege to work with so many smart, generous people in the Center over the years and to see how the Center has evolved.
What projects that you have managed stand out to you?
This will be a boring answer because I’ve really only managed the Princeton Prosody Archive. I’ve managed the PPA for nearly six years. It’s a different sort of work than project management in the corporate world, where project managers usually move from project to project. Because of the more research-based university model (which takes longer to do), I have an incredibly deep, intimate knowledge of this particular project’s history and inner-workings.
Tell me more about the Princeton Prosody Archive and your work with it.
The Princeton Prosody Archive (directed by Meredith Martin and built by CDH) is the premier digital resource for researching how people talked about English poetry, meter, pronunciation, and versification across five centuries. Studying the history of this discourse is important because prosodists, scholars, and teachers often use—and continue to use—ideas about poetry to promote powerful (and often erroneous and harmful) ideas about national and racial identity. The types of works you’ll find in the PPA include poetry manuals, schoolbooks, journal articles, rhyming dictionaries, pronunciation guides, scholarly monographs, and much more.
I have been the project manager for the Princeton Prosody Archive since 2018 and collaborated with the design and development team at the CDH to build the 3.0 site you see today at prosody.princeton.edu. One of the things I really enjoyed doing as PPA Project Manager was acceptance testing, a part of the software engineering process where I tested features to see whether or not they worked as expected. It’s a lot of fun to try to “break” a feature and then use your detective skills to locate patterns that might help the developers figure out why it’s breaking.
In 2021, I helped secure an agreement with Gale/Cengage that allowed us to ingest over 1,500 new works from Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). One of the really cool things about the Princeton Prosody Archive is that it combines digital surrogates of texts from more than one database: HathiTrust and ECCO. Researchers are usually limited to searching in one database (or one aggregator) at a time because of the way these companies have divided up and siloed knowledge, which they then sell back to university libraries. But the PPA allows you to search across them at once, and all of the code is open source, so researchers could (with permission from HathiTrust and/or Gale) create their own version of the PPA with texts about an entirely different subject.
What are you looking forward to in this new role?
I am looking forward to finally having the time to work on scholarly outputs that the project team has been talking about for years but hasn’t had time to prioritize until now. Meredith Martin, Rebecca Koeser, and I are planning to co-write a book about thinking and working beyond the “walled gardens” of siloed databases. I really enjoy collaborative writing and am looking forward to discussing this aspect of the PPA that troubles and advances the structures of how we do research in the digital age.
How do you approach project management?
I see project management as a set of practices designed to facilitate transparency, communication, and collaboration. Communication is hard. So is collaboration. Good project management strategies minimize ambiguity so that everyone on the team knows who is doing what and when. Work by Rebecca Munson and Natalia Ermolaev has also helped me see project management more broadly as a shared ethos and commitment to upholding a project’s values.
I often think of myself as a translator of sorts: teasing out goals, priorities, and action items from fast-paced discussions; concretizing what it is team members are asking for and why; and breaking down bigger goals into smaller steps. All of that is translating things into a form that is easier for people to understand and act upon.