Notre Dame de Paris – Sacred and Secular

Notre Dame

~ Lauren Janes, PhD
Associate Professor of History

Dr. Heidi Kraus and I have now had the privilege of leading our May Term, “Art, History, and Global Citizenship in Paris,” four times. It is a true joy to share with our Hope College students the beauty, art, culture, and social complexity of the city we know and love. Looking back on 2019, I think we will always remember it as the year that the world nearly lost Notre Dame de Paris. Visiting the cathedral and participating in mass there, surrounded by people from all over the world, had been a highlight of our first three May Term courses. This year we could only look upon Notre Dame from a distance, grieving the loss of the roof and spire and hoping that the medieval masonry will continue to stand strong.

One of the central themes of our course is to think about how history is represented in public spaces in Paris. What stories do the French state and the city of Paris tell about French and Parisian identity through the preservation and presentation of historic sites? How do we best experience and analyze those stories? Seeing Notre Dame damaged but still standing, and listening to debates and conversations about how, when, and by whom the cathedral will be restored, gave us many new insights into the complex meaning of historic sites for Parisians and visitors alike.

May 2019 group

It will be quite a few years before we worship inside Notre Dame de Paris again, but while we wait, we will continue to learn from the process of the cathedral’s reconstruction and presentation to Paris and the world. Notre Dame de Paris is both sacred and secular–the Catholic Church’s cathedral and a building owned by the secular French state. What will the “new” Notre Dame have to say about France, Paris, and the Catholic Church? We will continue to see how history, sacrality, and identity are preserved, constructed, and reconstructed in public space.

Now, at the end of October, we are preparing for our fifth Paris May Term in 2020. We are planning even more ways to help students engage with our program’s home neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement, and we are planning a new outing to Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny. There are no prerequisite requirements for the course, and all Hope College students are encouraged to apply.  Come join us!  Applications are due November 5 and can be found at




Paris Blues


~ Natalie Dykstra, Professor of English

When remembering our travels in Paris in May, I think first of the many days with beautiful blue skies that seemed bluer somehow, maybe because Paris is an expert in blues.  Shades of the color are everywhere one looks – from gothic stained-glass windows to enormous doors to these fashion plates on the outer walls of one of city’s oldest restaurants, Lapérouse, started in the 18th century.

We had a terrific second year doing primary source research at the American Library in Paris.  Students Aine O’Connor and Hannah Jones worked in the library’s special collections, where they catalogued books once owned by Janet Flanner, an American writer who published under the nom de plume Genêt in The New Yorker.  They updated the project’s Archive Stories website with a fascinating biographical essay on Flanner; their detailed finding aid to her book collection can be found here.  I’m grateful for their professional-level work, their enthusiasm for Paris, and their excellent company!

Kelly and I

Kelly and Natalie

Kelly Jacobsma, Dean of Libraries at Hope College, joined our team this year.  She provided key advice for all aspects of research and kept us on track.  As her admiring colleague and friend, I have to say she also made everything even more fun!  Thank you, Kelly!  Read more about her foray to another Paris library here.

As a group, we were able to attend a remarkable performance by Hope Dance Leap of Faith May Term, directed by Linda Graham, at the Centre de Danse du Marais, with a variety of extraordinary pieces choreographed by such artists as Graham and recent Hope alumni Lachan Jaarda and Emily Mejicano-Gormley.

at the danc

Heidi, Natalie, Kelly, and Lauren at the dance performance   

None of this would have been possible without my Paris Stories colleagues, Heidi Kraus and Lauren Janes, who are co-directors of Hope’s Paris May Term.  Our conversations, with Kelly joining us, about history and art and literature wove through our time together in the city, enlivening everything we saw.  My students and I are also grateful for the financial support from Mellon Foundation|Grand Challenges, a college-wide initiative directed by my department colleagues, Bill Pannapacker and Curtis Gruenler.  Thank you for your strong support and belief in the value of this sort of faculty/student collaboration.

Finally, innumerable thanks for the generous hospitality of everyone at the American Library in Paris, most especially Assistant Director Abigail Altman, our point person, and Director Audrey Chapuis.  We believe that building global institutional affliations, such as this one, is essential for the best possible education.  Thank you for making it a reality.

In the 1920s, Janet Flanner wrote that Paris had what America “hungered for.  Repressed by generations of Puritanism, it longed for bright, visible, and blatant beauty presented in a public form….”  A last look at some of favorite scenes and images from Paris, May 2019. Until next year!

Discovery: Hope College Students Attended Reception at the American Library in Paris in June 1959, 60 Years Ago

Facade of the library.1959.edited

Facade of the American Library in Paris, ca 1936

~ Hannah Jones ’21 and Aine O’Connor ’20

GuestbookWhen Dr. Natalie Dykstra and Abigail Altman, the Assistant Director at the American Library in Paris (ALP), began working together in the summer of 2017, they had no idea there was evidence of a relationship between Hope College and the library dated sixty years ago this month.  In late 2018, Altman discovered an old American Library guest book.  Mid-way through the pages listing the usual galas and fundraising events are two pages, with a list of signatures, for a reception held for Hope College students at the library on June 16, 1959, sixty years ago this week.  Forty-six students and faculty from Hope attended.   There are no other events listing college students in the guestbook, only Hope College.  Seeing this evidence of an earlier relationship, a record of which was found in a miscellaneous box in the library’s archives, sent a shiver down our spines. How did these two institutions, 4,000 miles apart, find each other not once, but twice?

guest book names

Signatures of Hope College visitors, June 16, 1959

Since seeing the guestbook, we have found many articles in The Anchor (the college’s student newspaper) as well as primary source collections in the Joint Archives of Holland that indicate the story of the ALP and the college began with Dr. Paul Fried, the legendary advocate for study-abroad programs at Hope, and Dr. Ian Forbes Fraser, the Director of the American Library from 1946-1969.  According to Fried’s letters, Fraser visited Hope College three times, the last visit taking place in October of 1958.  Fried, hard at work organizing the European tour of the Vienna Summer School program, wrote to Fraser as he was putting together the travel itinerary. The students, Fried said, “will need a chance to put impressions into the proper perspective” after visiting the headquarters of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It appears that Fraser did speak to Hope students and probably helped them to understand, in some small way, the complicated world of Cold War Europe.

Ian Forbes Fraser.1954.GettyImages

Dr. Ian Forbes Fraser, Director of the American Library in Paris; Getty Images

Fried and Fraser continued to write to each other in the early 1960s, and the last record of Hope students visiting the library (before 2018) is in 1963.  We want to know so much more, including why the relationship grew apart.  We hope that future students take on the challenge of finding out more details of this on-going relationship between the American Library in Paris and Hope College.   

*Photos reproduced with permission of the American Library in Paris Archives.

Week Two at ALP


Hannah.view from Arche

View of the city from the Arc de Triomphe; photo by Hannah Jones

~ Natalie Dykstra, Professor of English

We are coming to the close of our second week at the American Library in Paris – and what adventures we’ve had!  Hannah and Aine are finalizing their project on Janet Flanner.  They wrote a lengthy finding aid, which records all the details related to Flanner’s books that had been donated to the library in 1983.  This finding aid, which will be available on the library’s website (and via this blog), will make it possible for library patrons and researchers to understand more fully this important American writer.  Also, stay tuned to this space for their report on fascinating discoveries of an earlier link between the library and Hope College. 

Kelly Jacobsma brought all her expertise to our work, particularly her skill and patience with archival sources.  I marvel.  She also visited the nearby American University in Paris Quai d’Orsay Student Life and Learning Commons, a library that, until recently, shared space with the American Library in Paris.  She writes about her visit below.   

Kelly and I

Kelly and Natalie

There is something powerful about collaborative work with colleagues and students – you can go farther as a team than on one’s own.  I’m delighted to have had the chance to work with such stellar group!   

A special thanks Abigail Altman, assistant director of the library, for fascilitating our time here – we look forward to continuing our partnership to tell these fascinating Paris stories.  Thank you to Mellon Grand Challenges, Paris Stories teammates Lauren Janes and Heidi Kraus, and Hope College for their on-going and generous support. 

~ Hannah Jones ’21 and Aine O’Connor ’20

We can hardly believe our time in Paris and at the American Library is coming to an end. It feels both like we just got here and like we’ve been living here forever. It’s been a transformative experience. We are very fortunate to have worked in this historical institution and are thankful for the warm welcome we received from Abigail Altman (Assistant Director) and all the librarians here. It’s been an honor to continue the relationship between the American Library and Hope College, one that began much earlier than we’d previously thought.

We would like to especially thank Dr. Natalie Dykstra for inviting us to be a part of Archive Stories. She greatly assisted us in defining what our project would look like and provided mentorship on completing a finding aid and conducting cross-cultural research. We are also indebted to Kelly Jacobsma, Genevra Thome Begg Dean of Libraries, for her archival and research expertise.

Our project on Janet Flanner has been a joyful dive into archives and good books. Notes from friends and admirers, tucked away in Janet’s book collection, have now been uncovered, allowing us to bring a story to life in a new way.  It has been a privilege to rediscover and retell her incredibly interesting and intricate life.

Arriving at the library, we weren’t sure what to expect. Traveling abroad to a country where the language is not your own can be an isolating experience, so the library ended up providing a welcome respite from navigating the unfamiliar culture of France. The library understands the need to find a home in a new place. As a place founded for soldiers to be able to read books while fighting in World War I, there is a deep respect for the power of literature in times of confusion. There is a magic here that cannot really be described; it demands to be experienced firsthand.

Thank you to Dr. Lauren Janes and Dr. Heidi Kraus, directors of the Paris May Term, for their enthusiasm for and knowledge of French culture and willingness to include us in their activities. We are grateful to Abigail Altman and the rest of the staff at the library for this wonderful experience. Finally, Mellon Grand Challenges supported this opportunity to go to Paris and work at the library; we are honored and delighted to represent their work.

Hannah:  I have dreamed of going to Paris since I was very young. I took six years of French class, made bucket lists of what I would someday see, and imagined all of the delicious foods I would taste. (Seriously, the food here in France is unbelievable. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get back home.) Even so, despite all of my “somedays,” the idea of actually being in Paris never fully felt real to me. Being here, as cheesy as it sounds, is literally my dream come true. This city is everything I hoped it would be– breathtakingly beautiful, continously loud, and rich with history and culture. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t grabbed Aine’s arm and exclaimed something along the lines of, “Look at that building over there. We’re in Paris. Can you believe it?”

There is a sort of paradox about Paris. It has a population of over two million people, yet it is also somehow so personal. Aine and I were fortunate to find a lovely bakery near our apartment which quickly became part of our routine. Each day after work, we would macaroonstop by the bakery, be greeted by the friendly employees, and order breakfast for the next morning (croissants or pain au chocolats) and a new dessert to try that evening (my personal favorite was the amarys pistache framboise, a pistachio macaron filled with cream and fresh raspberries). And although there are two million people who have places to be, the city has a slower pace than I had anticipated. Yes, people run through the metro stations, but there is also an emphasis on taking time to enjoy a coffee with friends, on simply visiting with people and enjoying good food. Things are done deliberately in Paris.

Aine:  Paris was never supposed to be my place.  It was my sister who took French and my mother who loved French food.  They visited Paris many years ago, and that appeared to wrap up my family’s French travels, because why would they need to go back?  The City of Light seemed hazy to me, like a distant dream that would probably never be realized.  If you had told me as I began my college career that my study abroad experience would be here, I would have thought you were crazy. 

Hannah and Aine

Hannah and Aine – Golden Hour at the Louvre

Yet, here I am. Paris, in many ways, has become mine, a place I could now show around to someone else. I could tell them about how to avoid the vendors at the Eiffel Tower or the best place to get cassoulet. I could introduce them to the magnificent Huré bakery and enjoy a pain au chocolat with them in the morning. I could even demonstrate how to push through the most crowded Metro train ever to get off at the right stop. These tiny things, the secrets of living in Paris, are my favorite part of being here. There is so much satisfaction in conquering the small struggles that seem so difficult in the moment and so easy in retrospect. Traveling abroad is the best mix of challenge and contentment that I’ve ever experienced. Hannah has actually wanted to go to Paris far longer than I have, and so seeing the city become hers just as much as mine is the greatest joy. I’ve loved every moment of being here together, and I can’t wait to see how the growth I’ve experienced in Paris continues to make me feel stronger, more grown-up, and also (always) more curious about what the world can hold.


~ Kelly Jacobsma, Dean of Hope College Libraries

AUlibraryMonday I was privileged to spend the day at the American University in Paris Quai d’Orsay Student Life and Learning Commons, which just opened this spring. I met with Constance Paris de Bollardiere, historian and archivist at the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention. The American University in Paris is one of several sites world-wide that provides access the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive which allows users to search through and view more than 54,000 video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of genocide. The majority of the testimonies are from Holocaust survivors, but more recently the collection has been expanded to include Armenian Genocide, massacres in China and Cambodia and Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Some of the testimonies are available to the public online, but to view the majority of the collection you need to visit one of the hosting archives.

AUlibrary3The American University in Paris just recently moved into a newly renovated building along the Seine that houses a learning commons including the library, writing center, academic support center, student development and a cafe. University Librarian, Jorge Sosa graciously gave me a tour and explained the concept behind the renovated spaces. Space everywhere in Paris is at a premium and the design of this library is a future forward design that integrates library staff and student spaces. The most innovated part of the design (which may have been from necessity due to space concerns) is that library staff offices are housed on each floor next to student learning spaces and study rooms. Offices are very visually accessible and students are used to asking for help from whoever is closest at hand.

AUlibrary2Now that the library renovation is complete, they are turning their attention to migrating their library management system to Alma and Primo, which the Hope library did last summer. Our interests and concerns about running a small academic library are very similar and conversation ranged from learning commons design and compact shelving to the importance of information literacy and how it is integrated into their first year seminar course, which they call First Bridge. The American University in Paris is a member of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance, of which Hope College is a member.

our team

May 2019 Archive Stories|Paris Stories Team

Our First Week at the ALP

Near the library

~ Natalie Dykstra, Professor of English

The Archive Stories team has had a very productive first week at the American Library in Paris (ALP), which started Monday morning with a tour of the library, an architectural gem.  Tuesday evening was the library’s 99th birthday bash, which we were fortunate enough to attend.  Kelly Jacobsma, Dean of Hope College Libraries, flew in that day, as did her daughter Hannah Jacobsma, Hope alumna ’16.  It was wonderful to be together for the celebrations.


Hannah, Aine, and Kelly describe their work below:


~ Hannah Jones, English and women’s/gender studies major ‘21; and Aine O’Connor, English and history major ‘20

You know you’ve got a good thing going when the commute is one of the best parts of your job. We are amazed every morning by the beautiful Eiffel Tower, which appears through the haze of tourists, trees, and vendors who carry tiny miniatures of the massive structure. Luckily for us, our final destination, the American Library in Paris, is even more fun than getting there.


Janet Flanner, Library of Congress

Over the past week, we have been delving into the library’s special collection on Janet Flanner.  Flanner was a long-time writer for The New Yorker–many writers say she helped invent the magazine’s unique, quippy style. She captivated twentieth-century Americans with her vivid descriptions of life in Paris, from the murders and political scandals of the elites to the everyday struggles of poor, post-WWII Parisians. At some point (we are still discovering the mystery of exactly how), some of Flanner’s books were donated to the American Library in Paris. Our job over the past several days has been to catalog signatures, inscriptions, and annotations in each book in order to put together the story of Flanner in Paris. By examining her collection, we can glean information about who and what she loved, what worried her, frustrated her, excited her–in essence, we can begin to understand who she was.


Front inside cover of The New History of the United States by William Miller, Dell Publishing 1962; reproduced with permission, American Library in Paris Special Collections, 973 M619n.

What we’ve found has made us fall in love with Janet Flanner–or, at the very least, we’ve fallen in love with her humor, sass, and occasional straight-up savagery. One of the clearest themes we’ve found in the notes of her books is how well-liked she was. So many books include inscriptions full of warm admiration and love. In the circle of Americans in Paris in the post-WWII era, Flanner existed as a marginal figure, but her friendships with people like Gertrude Stein and Martha Gellhorn (the third wife of Ernest Hemingway) were close. And her connections were wide: at one point, she even received a letter from a special consultant to President Lyndon Johnson! book

Inside front cover of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein, Penguin Books, 1966; reproduced by permission, American Library in Paris Special Collections, BSt343.

Some of the marginalia and notes in Flanner’s books reveal a sharp, even cutting side. She would correct the writing, sometimes taking issue with the author’s dates. Other books have pages full of comments and references. As you can see in the picture on the right, it is difficult to be charmed by Flanner’s handwriting. We spent an entire morning attempting to decode one story about Gertrude Stein, Stein’s partner Alice, and their poodle, Basket.

We have enjoyed every minute of our time at the library so far. Assistant Director Abigail Altman and the other members of staff at the library have been welcoming, kind, and enthusiastic to our little group from Hope College, and it is truly an honor to work alongside them in Paris, telling stories and creating spaces where everyone belongs.


~ Kelly Jacobsma, Dean of Hope College Libraries

Kelly.Aine.Hannah.jpgWhen I arrived at the library, Aine and Hannah were well underway on the Flanner project and had already made several interesting discoveries. Abigail Altman, Assistant Director in charge of the library’s archives and special collections, provided a lot of historical background and context for the collections. The ALP is a hybrid between an extremely busy modern public library and an academic-type library serving American college and French students. The conference room was filled all afternoon with high school age students working collaboratively and studying for exams.

Working with archival collections, especially personal gift collections can unearth surprises, further questions and sometimes frustration. You cannot help wondering what someone was thinking when they wrote in the margins or why some previous librarian saved what they did. The library staff believes that Flanner’s books came to them as a gift from the estate of her friend Noel Haskins Murphy in 1983. I spent the afternoon going through library archives looking for further connections between Flanner and the library and was pleased to find evidence that she had been a subscribing member and donor.  More discoveries to come!




Archive Stories Returns to the American Library in Paris


Notre-Dame at Dusk, Charles Guilloux, 1898

~ Natalie Dykstra, Professor of English

We’re back in Paris!  We’ve been reading and dreaming about Paris all spring, and now we’re here, eager to continue work started last May in the archives at the American Library in Paris (ALP).


Hannah Jones and Aine O’Connor

Let me introduce our team for May 2019:  Hannah Jones is a rising junior, majoring in English. She speaks French, but this is her first time in France. Aine O’Connor, a rising senior majoring in history and English, is interested in a career in archives and libraries. Hannah and Aine will work in the ALP’s special collections doing research on the rare book collection of Janet Flanner (1892-1978), the long-time writer for The New Yorker who published “A Letter from Paris” under the nom de plume, Genêt. Flanner knew all the American writers in Paris during the Lost Generation: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Her descriptions of the evacuation of Paris at the start of WWII are as gripping as any first-hand account. There is much to discover about Flanner, her circle of writers and artists, and her relationship to the American Library, which had been founded in 1920.

What do Hannah and Aine most look forward to?  In their words:  “We are so excited to work at the American Library in Paris and build on the excellent work done by last summer’s team. Diving into the archives and learning about the life of Janet Flanner, who was one of America’s premier 20th century writers, will be a fruitful experience for both of us. Hopefully, our project will contribute to library.  Beyond the research that we’ll be doing, we are looking forward to discovering Parisian culture, art, and food. The language and history of France are fascinating and unforgettable, and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to delve deeply and immerse ourselves in the life of the city.

We’re delighted that Kelly Jacobsma, Director of Hope College Libraries, will join us this year, lending our team her library expertise.


World-wide attention turned to Paris last month, as the ancient timbers in the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral burned and its steeple tumbled.  The cathedral, which Thomas Jefferson noted in the 18th century “bids defiance to description,” was called by Victor Hugo in the next century “a vast symphony of stone.”  And so it still is – battered, smoke-stained, but with its two towers standing against the spring sky.

I’m so glad to be back in the city – to walk its streets, to see its treasures, to appreciate its historical and artistic complexity.  My team and I are especially grateful for the support of the Mellon|Grand Challenges and Dr. Lauren Janes and Dr. Heidi Kraus, directors of the Paris May Term.

Watch this space for updates on our work at the library and on our travels, starting the week of May 20.  Follow us on Twitter @GCParisStories.

Paris May Term, 2019: Looking Forward, Looking Back

2018 kids at opera garnierRecruiting has started for the 2019 Art, History, and Global Citizenship Paris May Term at Hope College!  (Apply here by Nov. 12).  As we prepare for May of 2019, we reflect back on several highlights from this past May.


The 2018 edition of the Paris May Term was a big success.  We loved engaging a new group of students with the city of Paris in all of its beauty but also all of its history and complexity.  We left before the World Cup, but at least we were in Paris for a bit of this amazing summer of Les Bleus! 

One new addition to the 2018 May Term program was a final project by our history and art history students. Their final projects required that they create Smarthistory-style videos analyzing a piece of artwork or historic site. We are sharing a couple of these videos here. (Check out Smarthistory and their awesome videos here.) These engaging student videos are excellent examples of the critical thinking needed to bring history and art history together in a compelling analysis, and they provide interesting glimpses into two remarkable Parisian museums.

Cherish Joe (Studio Art, ‘20) and Maddie Zimmerman (Art History/Chinese, ‘20) take us into the Musée Quai Branly and discuss not only King Ghezo’s Throne but also Benin art in general and the impact of the transatlantic slave trade on the Kingdom of Benin and its artistic production. They also offer a critique of the Musée Quai Branly itself.  

ParisMayTerm2018.2Kelly Ocock (Studio Art, ‘19) and Merrit Kramer (Business, 2021) analyze Marc Chagall’s “Derrière le village,” 1916, as they observed it in the “Chagall, Lissitzky, Malévitch: The Russian Avant-Garde in Vitebsk (1918-1922)” exhibition at the Centre Pompidou.  They analyze this piece in the context of other art from the period and in the historical context of World War I.

anna and lauren on montmartre

We look forward to May 2019 – come join us!