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.

Fall 2018 Courses

We have more Paris Stories to read and write.  Come join us – we’d love to see you in our fall courses!

English 371:  American Writers in Paris, Wednesdays, 6 – 8:50pm

my ET image“Writing in Paris is one of the oldest American customs.” – Van Wyck Brooks

Paris has long held a fascination for American writers.  As the world’s cultural capital, the city has been the setting for self-discovery, cross-cultural contact, and artistic innovation for American writers ranging from Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century to Langston Hughes and Gertrude Stein in the 20th century.  This course is an exploration and discovery of American writers who found the city, in one way or another, a powerful source of inspiration.  We will read letters and documents, poetry and fiction of colonial Americans, 19th-century travelers, and 20th-century adventurers, all with an eye toward understanding how the Paris/America cultural exchange shaped American self-understanding and literary expression.  We will keep reading journals, as so many of our writers did while in Paris, and coursework will include two exams, a final research project, and Pecha Kucha class presentations.  For more information, please contact Prof. Dykstra at ndykstra@hope.edu.  


Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

IDS 172.03:  Defining Nations: Paris, T/TH, 12:00- 1:20pm

This course was co-developed interdisciplinarily by Lauren Janes, Natalie Dykstra, Pauline Remy, and Chuck Green. To be taught in Fall 2018 by Lauren Janes, it is part of the IDS Cultural Heritage curriculum.  The course engages students using history, philosophy, and literature to discuss questions of the development of national identities – their creation, reshaping, and limits – with a primary focus on Paris. The opening unit on the Enlightenment and French Revolution involves students “playing” the elaborate role-playing curriculum Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791. The second unit will examine Americans who wrote from Paris, with an emphasis on understanding how their experience in the city influenced their experience and understanding of American identity. We will look especially at the experience of African Americans in Paris, from Frederick Douglas to Ta-Nehisi Coates.  The final unit will examine anti-colonial, black nationalist, and anti-racism movements that centered on Paris in the twentieth century. Through the works of these Caribbean, African, and French writers and philosophers we will further examine the role of race in the definition of Frenchness and in post-colonial national identities. For more information, contact Dr. Janes at janes@hope.edu.

Je Suis.charlie

Paris rally in support of the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, 11 January 2015 at the Place de la Republique. Photo by Olivier Ortelpha.

First-Year Seminar:  Paris ~ Shaping a City and Defining Nations

Co-created by Lauren Janes and Heidi Kraus with significant contributions from Marissa Doshi, Pauline Remy, and Chuck Green, this FYS course will be taught in Fall 2018 by Lauren Janes. Students will think about identity and nationalism by examining Paris from interdisciplinary perspectives. As a way to orient students to college learning, we will highlight key aspects of Parisian and French national life, such as the French Revolution, the 19th-century reshaping of the city, and the global diversity of twenty-first century Paris. Students will reflect on their own identity as citizens of a country and a global community, and connect this to their pursuit of the liberal arts.  For more information, contact Dr. Janes at janes@hope.edu.  

Communication 151:  Media and Society. This half-semester course fulfills the college’s SS requirement and has a GLI flag. Dr. Marissa Doshi will teach two sections of the course in Fall 2018. This course explores the impact of media in society, and students are introduced to the format and function of different types of contemporary media, specifically social media.  In this new revised version of Comm 151, Dr. Heidi Kraus will teach two classes on the topic of activist street art in Paris. The course will also explore contemporary social media discourses about religious pluralism, free speech, and Eurocentrism in French society. For more information, contact Marissa Doshi at doshi@hope.edu.  


A Paris Album

AP photo 11.11.1918.

Armistice Day, November 11, 1918 (AP photo)

~ by Natalie Dykstra, Professor of English

My grandfather, my mother’s father, worked on a family farm in north central Iowa, which had some of the richest land in all of America – six feet of top soil referred to as “black gold.”  My mom said her father spent most of his long life in the same county he’d been born in — he traveled from farm to school to church to town and back again. The one exception:  he was drafted into the army during WWI.  He trained with Battery B, a heavy artillery unit, at Camp Dodge north of Des Moines and was shipped to France on January 31, 1918.  He didn’t see much fighting.  The war ended the following November.  But he had a chance to see Paris.

Grandpa Primus.WWI

William Primus (author photo)

When I knew him, he mostly wore blue and white striped farmer overalls. In his retirement, he liked to sit outside under the trees on his lawn chair sipping icy lemonade. I liked to sit next to him with my own lemonade and ask him questions about “the past.” He would often tell me of his travel to France on a troop ship – how he and his buddies lay on the grates above the ship’s boilers to stay warm, how the sky over the ocean seemed even bigger than the Iowa sky.  I wish I could remember more of what he said about Paris.  I remember him saying that he was glad he’d seen the city, that it was the largest city he’d ever visited, and that he liked the food.  Did he visit the art museums or walk along the quay?  I don’t know.  I do know he bought a small makeup compact with a view of the Eiffel Tower for his sweetheart back home.


(author photo)

He would marry my grandmother not long after he returned.  Years later, she gave me the compact, which I keep now next to my own wedding picture.

Maybe, I was especially fascinated by what my grandfather told me, because at that time my family lived on Paris St. on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, MI, a neighborhood lined with yellow and red maple trees that turned to fire every fall.  The street where I played kick the can had the same name as the glamourous city of grandfather’s wartime stories.

* * *

Last summer, I traveled to Paris to do research for my next book project, a biography of the art collector and museum founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner.  In 1892, she purchased one of her most important paintings, Vermeer’s The Concert, at the Hotel Drouot, even now one of Paris’ largest auction houses.  I retraced her footsteps the day of the purchase:  from the Hotel Westminster in the 2nd arrondissement‎ where she and her husband Jack would typically to stay; to Boucheron, the nearby jewelry store at the place Vendome where Jack bought Isabella’s pearl necklaces; to the Café de Paris; and then to the auction house, which is still at the same address along the rue de Richelieu, though its 19th- century building has been replaced by a modern structure.


The Concert, Vermeer, 1664

That day, while walking Paris’ streets, I couldn’t help but think of my Iowa grandfather and his sojourn in the city almost 100 years before.

* * *

Teachers of English

American and British teachers of English in front of the American Library in Paris  on the rue de l’Elysée, 1926    (Photo: American Library in Paris)

I am returning to Paris this May, as part of a Paris Stories/Mellon Grand Challenges project.  This time I’ll be doing research with two Hope students in the archives at the American Library in Paris on the rue du Général Camou, its current address, near the Eiffel Tower.  The library was founded just after WWI with English language books that had been sent to Paris by the American Library Association to soldiers like my grandfather, so they’d have something to read when far from home.  The library then served a fascinating role during the German Occupation of WWII, staying open, despite enormous pressure from the Vichy government, and secretly sending books to Jews, who had been outlawed from using other libraries.  The library has been a center for readers and writers ever since.

My students and I hope to discover in their archives many more untold Paris stories.


Neighborhood of the American Library in Paris, 2017 (author photo)

In Defense of the Humanities

Ethel Spowers, Val de Grace, Paris, 1923

Ethel Spowers, Val de Grace, Paris, 1923

Heidi E. Kraus ~ Assistant Professor of Art History and Director of the De Pree Gallery

As an art historian at Hope, a small, private liberal arts college, I am required to teach more than just studio art and art history students. The majority of my students come from a variety of disciplines, backgrounds and abilities. My First-Year Seminar on Global Paris this semester, which just ended, focused on examining national identity using the city of Paris—its history, people, art and culture—as a case study. Over the course of the semester, students have grappled with challenging questions, such as: “What does it mean to be French today?” and “How is contemporary France reflective of its past?” In seeking answers to these sometimes-uncomfortable questions, which often center on religion, racism and colonialism, I hoped that students would look to their own experiences, recognizing that they, too, are part of a global society.  To that end, their classroom presentations required that they investigate some aspect of their identity.



“T-Rex,” University of Utah

Two intended science majors took to the front of our classroom to give their presentation entitled, “In Defense of the Humanities.”   I squirmed a bit in my chair, unsure how this was going to play out.  Was this actually going to be a defense of the humanities or a mockery of them? What could first-semester freshman really bring to this discussion and, moreover, what did this have to do with their identity? They flashed an image on the screen. At the top of the image is a man in a white coat and dark tie, wearing glasses and holding a clip board in his left hand. With arms stretched upward in a gesture of achievement, the man looks at a large egg that has started to crack. Below this scene, a large tyrannosaurus rex is seen moving towards the now diminutive man, running for his life with papers and clipboard trailing behind him. The text makes the image unmistakably clear: “Science can tell you how to clone a tyrannosaurus rex. Humanities can tell you why this might be a bad idea.”

The students proceeded to tell the class that, while they both identify as science majors, exposure to the humanities during their first college semester has greatly enriched their major course of study. Admittedly, prior to college they did not understand why a class such as ours was necessary when studying to be a neuroscientist or biologist. Yet, after the student-presenters took their seats, I felt more hopeful about my own identity as a college professor who teaches in the humanities. Courses in the humanities are teaching these students about the world and places other than their own, reminding them to slow down and be more aware, and, perhaps most importantly, modeling for them how to communicate.

Computers can do many things, I often tell my students. But computers cannot yet think critically. That is up to us.

~ Happy Holidays from the Paris Grand Challenges Team!



Paris Stories ~ Spring Courses 2018


Édouard Manet, Luncheon on the Grass, 1865

Here are fascinating options for exploring PARIS STORIES next spring!

The officially-linked Paris Stories course for Spring 2018 is the newly reworked Art 241. ** Note all 200-level Art History courses now fulfill the FA1 requirement.

ART 241 (FA1)–Modern Art & Architecture (T/Th 12-1:20):  This course, taught by Heidi Kraus with contributions by Lauren Janes, is a chronological survey of Modern art, architecture, and urban design in Europe and America from approximately 1750 to 1900. While many survey courses on Modern art start in the second half of the nineteenth-century, this course consciously chooses to begin our investigation in the eighteenth-century with the Enlightenment—a period that, in many ways, laid the foundation for modernism.  Modern art in particular can be understood as a reaction to the aesthetic, cultural, social, and political contexts in which they were made. As such, competing art theories and aesthetic debates will be critically examined within a historical methodological approach. Emphasis will also be placed on the impact of the Middle East, China, and Japan on art of the period—specifically how the East and Orientalism has been visually represented in Western art, architecture, literature, and media since the nineteenth-century. Writing, research and engagement with primary sources, active class discussion, museum visits, and the use of digital media will be integral elements of the course.  


History and Memory in Algeria and France: Algerian stamp commemorating the 50 year anniversary of the 1961 massacre of Algerian protesters in Paris.

History 321–The Making of Modern Africa (T/Th 3-4:20): This is not a Paris Stories linked course, though it will be of interest for students who want to know more about issues of colonialism, race, and identity in France, all questions raised in IDS172, Prof. Kraus’ FYS, and during the Paris May Term.  The class examines Africa since 1940 through a series of case studies examining the process and legacy of decolonization. Our main case study will be Algeria, Nigeria, and South Africa. Our unit on Algeria will delve deeply into the Algerian War (as it was called by the French) or War of Independence (as it is known in Algeria) and its impacts on both Algeria and France. We’ll read some of the great Francophone thinkers on decolonization:  Memmi and Fanon.  

REMEMBER – you can apply now for the Paris May Term: Art, History, & Global Citizenship in Paris.  This year you can take our combined history/art history course (for CHII OR FA1 credit), an upper-level history or art history course, or a senior seminar. Come experience the place where all these Paris Stories happen!

Applications due Nov. 29.  Admissions and financial aid decisions in early December.