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!

Archive Stories ~ 2018

Sarah and Michaela

Sarah Lundy and Michaela Stock

As a new academic year is about to begin, I look back to summer’s start, when I had the privilege to work at the American Library in Paris (ALP) with two talented research students, Sarah Lundy and Michaela Stock.  With support from Grand Challenges at Hope College|Paris Stories, a program funded by the Mellon Foundation, we spent two weeks in May in the archives at the ALP.  From time to time, we joined with the Paris May Term, led by Dr. Lauren Janes and Dr. Heidi Kraus.  We were given a generous welcome by everyone at the library, and we owe special thanks to Abigail Altman, Assistant Director of Collections and Reference, who coordinated with us from the beginning and guided us through the library’s rich collection and history.  We thank her for everything she did on our behalf.

ALP.doorI’m enormously proud of the work accomplished by Sarah and Michaela, which they showcase in their project website, entitled Archive Stories|Paris.  Take a look at the finding aid they wrote for the library that details the books once owned Nadia Boulanger, an important 20th-century American composer and music teacher in Paris, which are now part of the special collections at the ALP.

At the end of our stay, a librarian quoted a line from Casablanca that echoed our hopes as well:  this summer was just the “beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  We’re eager to collaborate again with American Library in Paris – there is much more to discover.

If you’re interested, feel free to contact me for more information at

The Seine near the American Library in Paris

The Seine near the American Library in Paris

~ Natalie Dykstra, Professor of English

Photos by the author






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.

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.



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

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







Paris in May

Les Deux Magots, 2018

Les Deux Magots, 2018, author photograph

~ Natalie Dykstra

I have been thinking and writing a lot about Paris – the city, its history, its streets, its writers and artists, and what it feels like to be here.  I arrived in the city yesterday to meet with my research students Sarah Lundy and Michaela Stock for our archival project at the American Library in Paris, an institution with a storied history, started by the American Library Association after WWI with English-language books that had been sent over for American soldiers.  We’ll also be joining my Paris Stories colleagues, Lauren Janes and Heidi Kraus, directors of the Paris May Term, and their students.

I asked Sarah and Michaela, who have studied French and have been to the city on previous May terms, for a few words about what they’re looking forward to on this return trip.  This is what they wrote:

Sarah Lundy, ‘19

Sarah LundyParis, as the quintessential French city, always seems like the perfect blend of new and old in one place, ideal for anyone who loves history, as I do.  I most look forward to the opportunity to explore the American Library in Paris (ALP), which appears to have many materials archived but unstudied, and, through working there, contribute in a small way to preserving the history/culture of such a city. Since it seems that we’ll be assisting the Library with some of the organization and cataloging of their special collections and photos, I cannot wait to see and study some of the Library’s more unique materials, the ones that clearly have a story to tell about how they ended up at the ALP. I also love the idea of building a website to describe these collections, as a way to transport others to Paris and introduce them to the resources there.

Michaela Stock ‘20

Michaela.2.jpgParis is, in my opinion, a synonym for perfection. The ivy-covered balconies and stylish French fashion that weaves through the city embodies every childhood dream I’ve had, and I’m so excited to be back in my home-away-from-home to work at the American Library in Paris.  As an art history minor, preserving history is an invigorating and important task to me.  Though history is anything but an easy path, I’m honored and excited to tackle whatever challenges in these next weeks.  I look forward to hearing, seeing, reading, and experiencing the stories of those who came before me.  I can’t wait to see what these next weeks have in store!

We thank Grand Challenges |Paris Stories, funded by the Mellon Foundation, and Hope College for their strong support of faculty/student collaborations.  We’ll keep you posted on our adventures and what we discover.


The first  day at the library:  Michaela and Sarah hard at work making notes about the book collection owned by the French composer Nadia Boulanger and donated to the library after her death in 1979.

1st Day at library


Paris Research Presented at NCUR

Kraus.April post

Jo Di Bona’s 2015 reinterpretation of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” on the Rue d’Alibert, Paris. Photo by Heidi Kraus.

Julia Hines, senior art history/psychology double-major, had the opportunity to work with Dr. Heidi Kraus on locating, photographing and digital mapping street art and public spaces following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. This week, Julia is presenting her field work at the National Celebration for Undergraduate Research at the University of Central Oklahoma. READ MORE about her story and Dr. Kraus’s research here.