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.

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  


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

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  

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  


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)