Our Second Week: Discoveries at the American Library in Paris

Parisian Culture ~ by Michaela Stock ’20

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Michaela Stock at Musée de l’Orangerie; photo by Natalie Dykstra

Parisian culture frowns upon skipping lunch, to-go cups of coffee, and blinding ambition. I’ve learned what it means to taste, see, and experience life in Paris on a richer level than I ever have before. Whether my evenings were filled with reading and writing on the Seine with a macaron or wandering through the Palais Galliera fashion museum, I carried a sense of contentment with me everywhere I went in Paris.

The city’s optimism and savory attitude blended into my work at the American Library in Paris. Every morning, we were greeted with a smile by the ALP team. They shared their stories about Paris life with us over lunch in the staff room and during breaks over the work day. In the ALP’s archives, I spent my time sifting through letters, meeting minutes, and photographs from as early as the 1920’s. History was living in my hands, and I felt purpose doing this work.
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Sarah and I decided to write an archival finding aid for Parisian composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger’s books from the ALP’s Special Collections, which are made up of books once owned by historical figures in Paris and America that no longer circulate publicly. The work we did on Boulanger’s collection was interesting and detail-oriented. We transcribed letters from Boulanger’s friends written in the front of her books and went through each book page-by-page to check for annotations. We felt like we contributed in a small way to the library’s collection and for the preservation of its history.

Paris fills my spirit to the brim. Although the trip has not been “une promenade dans le parc” (a walk in the park) — a couple trips to the doctor were a part of these weeks — I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I’ll miss my daily routine of waking up early, taking the metro, and walking through the gardens below the Eiffel Tower to get to work. Though I’m sad to leave Paris, I’m parting this city with a refreshed view of life—all thanks to my time at the American Library and Paris’ infectious, artistic charm.

Paris Return ~ by Sarah Lundy ’19

Sarah Lundy.readingReturning to the French capital this May was exciting for several reasons— it reminded me of the memories I made and the lessons I learned on my last visit here in 2016, during the Paris May term, but also gave me the chance to see this city in new ways. Since it also comes at the end of a semester spent abroad in Nantes, France, this time in Paris was a way to celebrate what I’ve learned about French language, history, and culture while discovering more about what it means to do archive work. The French take moments in their day to socialize around a cup of coffee and spend time in nature, yet they still get their work done. By embracing a bit of this way of life during my studies, I’m appreciating how living abroad (even for a short amount of time) can be an opportunity for growth that won’t end upon my arrival back home.

These two weeks archiving at the American Library have been full of new lessons as well. Archive work, like any task, comes with its own challenges. Michaela and I chose to concentrate on the library’s collection of books owned by Nadia Boulanger. In the process of searching these books together, I discovered first hand just how labor-intensive it can be to transcribe unknown documents for the first time or dig through archive boxes for a specific letter. I’m now even more convinced that research is a team effort. Whether a project is a solo endeavor or a communal one, the mental focus and devotion it takes to start, follow, and achieve a project is not possible without support. I loved working with Michaela and Professor Dykstra because their skills, talents, and knowledge supplemented and augmented my own. As an added benefit, the assistance and encouragement that we received from the staff at the library has been integral to our success.

One of the best aspects of studying history is its ability to help people travel beyond their own lives and learn about another era, culture, place, or person on a deeper, more personal level. When you devote time and energy to discovering one person, as we did with Nadia Boulanger at the Library, you can dive into his/her story and share it with a larger audience. History is more than a collection of objective facts based on dates— it is storytelling. I hope that the work we’ve done these past two weeks at the ALP helps to continue to tell both Boulanger’s story and the library’s own story.

*****

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Michaela Stock ’19, Natalie Dykstra (Professor of English), and Sarah Lundy ’20 at the American Library in Paris for the ALP Summer Archive Project, connected to Paris Stories | Grand Challenges at Hope College

I am incredibly proud of the work that Michaela and Sarah accomplished during our two weeks at the library.  They have showed diligence, curiosity, skill and a professionalism that has impressed both me and the library staff.  Many thanks to Abigail Altman, Assistant Director of Collections and Reference, for working with us and making this opportunity for possible, and we are very grateful for the warm and generous welcome from everyone at the library.  What a memorable first summer and a strong start of a on-going collaboration between the library and Hope faculty/students!

~ Natalie Dykstra

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