Our First Week: An Update on the American Library in Paris Project

Thea Musgrave inscription
Inscription to Nadia Boulanger in T.S. Eliot’s Notes Toward the Definition of Culture from friend and fellow composer, Thea Musgrave; reproduced with permission, photo by Michaela Stock (American Library in Paris Special Collections, 901 El46)

~ by Sarah Lundy ’19 and Michaela Stock ’20

We’ve been preparing our trip to the American Library in Paris (ALP) with Professor Natalie Dykstra since last January and are excited to have started our work here.  Here are a few observations from our first days at the ALP that we’d love to share with you:

The subject of our work this first week has been the special collection books owned by French conductor and composer Nadia Boulanger.  She was an inspiring French woman and deserves much more recognition than she receives today.  A teacher and friend to other musical greats, including Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, and Astor Piazzolla, Boulanger is yet another reminder of the historic connections present between France and the USA.

Sarah Lundy

Sarah holding a 1925 first edition of edited collection, Edgar Allan Poe’s Letters in the Valentine Museum; photo by Michaela

Archival work is more than sorting ancient paperwork. There seems to be a stereotype that archive research is mostly looking through dusty, decaying records; however, there’s such variety to be found in the archives at the ALP (and other institutions as well:  historic photos, old letters and documents, like the ones Nadia owned, etc.  We weren’t sure what we’d find while searching her special collection, but we came across some fantastic surprises.  It turns out Boulanger was an avid reader of both poetry and prose— and she owned a 1925 1st edition collection of Edgar Allan Poe letters!

The American Library in Paris has many more amazing resources to discover. Between the kids/young adult section to graduate research assistance, the ALP is a place for all.  But beyond the library’s rich archives, special collections, and shelves of books are its people. The ALP staff is kind and welcoming.  On our first day at the library, Assistant Director Abigail Altman introduced us to everyone on staff and gave us a tour of the building’s facilities.  She gave us our own office, a few lunch spot recommendations, and was immensely interested in our work. The American Library in Paris quickly began to feel like a home-away-from-home here in the city with its amazing people, resources, and its scenic location next to the Eiffel Tower.  Not to mention, there’s an espresso machine inside.

Our first week archiving at the ALP has been an experience unlike any other.  From our rush hour commutes on packed métro lines and morning walks through the Eiffel Tower’s gardens, to our careful transcribing and page-by-page study of Nadia Boulanger’s book collection, we’ve loved every minute of it.  We’re excited discover more treasures in the archives next week and to keep experiencing Paris as researchers, rather than tourists. À tout à l’heure!

Two poems

Mabel Wing Castle poems enclosed in box that housed her book, “Sonnets for Seventy”; photo by Michaela







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