They’ll Always Have Paris

Left to right, Michaela Stock, Dr. Natalie Dykstra, Sarah Lundy

A small but reputable library in Paris now has a new and meaningful relationship with a small but reputable liberal arts college in the U.S. thanks to a Hope English professor and her two research students.

For two and a half weeks during the summer of 2018, Dr. Natalie Dykstra, senior Sarah Lundy and junior Michaela Stock worked at and established a partnership with the American Library in Paris. Their research and scholarship not only fed their own intellectual curiosity about historical stories and archival work, it also supplied the library with a useful resource as well.

Dykstra tapped Stock and Lundy to join her in France as part of a Hope’s Paris Stories project, an interdisciplinary Grand Challenges program funded by the Mellon Foundation. Focused on art, literature, history and senior seminar course work, Paris Stories is also co-directed by Dr. Lauren Janes of the history department and Dr. Heidi Kraus of the art department who lead a May Term to Paris each spring and teach Francophile courses, along with Dykstra, back at Hope during the academic year.

So it was then under Dykstra’s guidance that Lundy and Stock took on their own extensive archival endeavor regarding Nadia Boulanger.

At the American Library in Paris, though, Dykstra helped launch Lundy and Stock into a world of research that the professor knows well. Dykstra’s own writing has required extensive archival work; for her 2012 book, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, and currently for her upcoming biography of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner.  So it was then under Dykstra’s guidance that Lundy and Stock took on their own extensive archival endeavor regarding Nadia Boulanger, a mid-20th century French music teacher and composer who left a large collection of records, concert programs, sheet music and inscribed books to the American Library in Paris.

Sarah Lundy in the American Library in Paris

“When we went in, we had no firm idea of what project we would be doing,” says Lundy, a history and French double major. “It was very flexible, and we started with plans to just see what the library needed us to do.”

When they discovered that the library had a substantive special collection of artifacts associated with Boulanger that needed a detailed finding aid, the trio knew they were onto something good.

‘Since we’re all kind of art and history nerds, we were pretty excited,” exclaims Stock, a recording arts major with French and art history minors. “Sarah and I went page by page through about 42 [items] Nadia left and transcribed both the French and English inscriptions from Nadia and from her friends.”

“In essence,” Stock continues, “it was a lot of compiling of the smaller stories we found into a bigger picture of what the American Library in Paris means in the story of Nadia Boulanger. And that story also had a greater context to the history of France and in World War II. So, it’s one of those things that history does: You ask one question, and you can get a million answers.”The American Library in Paris was established in 1920 by the American Library Association with a couple thousand English language books that had been sent to American soldiers during World War I. That founding spirit is reflected in its motto: “Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux: After the darkness of war, the light of books.”

Looking out the door of the American Library in Paris

Over the years, a who’s who of American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, have graced the library’s rooms, and it became a cultural center as much as a repository of books used by French nationals to teach English to their students. Today, the library — the largest English-language lending library on the European continent and located not far from the Eiffel Tower — has over 100,000 books in its holdings.

About Boulanger, Lundy and Stock learned much and grew to appreciate their protagonist’s high regard as a female composer and educator in France and beyond. Educated at the Paris Conservatory in the early 1900s, Boulanger later taught both American and European students, such as Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky. She also became the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic.

Beyond the finding aid, the duo created a website about their archival work and partnership with the American Library in Paris.

For Lundy and Stock, their Paris experience went beyond factual understanding and fostered intellectual and personal growth.

“Some of the librarians (at the American Library in Paris) said to me toward the end of our stay, ‘Where did you get these students? They are great!’,” remembers Dykstra. “I could not have been prouder of the work that they did. They arrived every morning just as the library was opening up and they stayed until closing. I think their work ethic was just remarkable.

“There’s nothing I enjoy more than having a project like this with our students,” Dykstra continued. “For me, it pushes me as a teacher, as a writer, as a biographer. I think faculty grow as much as students do having these experiences. I’m very grateful to the Grand Challenges program for providing us with the funding so we could make this relationship with the library possible. I’m also grateful to my Paris Stories partners, Lauren Janes and Heidi Kraus.”

For Lundy and Stock, their Paris experience went beyond factual understanding and fostered intellectual and personal growth.

“I love stories. I think it’s the thing that makes me love history,” explains Lundy. “But having so many different cultures and people and perspectives coming together in our Nadia research was really eye-opening. To have a hands-on experience where you’re immersed in that narrative and can see even a fraction of a person’s and of a history’s timeline is something that makes me say, ‘This isn’t all of it but it’s an important part of the overall story.’ Then I think, what does that say about our culture here or a different topic historically where one person’s biography or a narrative is written. There’s so many ways you can apply what we learned even though it was in Paris.”

Michaela Stock in the American Library in Paris

“I have dreamed of living and working and being in Paris for almost my entire life,” adds Stock. “I felt I was my fullest, best self over there, and I think I’ve carried that experience home. This (fall) semester has been by far the best I’ve ever had and I highly attribute that to finding myself in Paris and figuring it out alongside mentors, both student and professor. So for me, it was definitely an internal surge of growth that I will never forget.”

Nor will The American Library in Paris. The work that the Hope trio completed, and the relationship they started, will have a life there for years to come. Dykstra hopes to continue with a second team of students in Paris in May 2019. Hope College is now part of the ongoing story that the American Library in Paris gets to tell about itself in the run-up to its 100th anniversary in 2020. And of course, the American Library in Paris now part of Hope’s narrative, too.

The First Great Inoculation Debate

A heated debate rooted in a distrust of science about the safety and effects of childhood vaccinations has, in recent years, been under a microscope in this country. But another inoculation debate raged in the U.S. almost 300 years ago, and it was this tense, centuries-old discourse, rooted this time in both scientific and religious misgivings, that became junior Elizabeth Ensink’s research focus during the summer of 2015. Her original work on the topic earned her a prestigious place at last week’s 20th annual national Posters on the Hill event in Washington, DC, a selective poster session sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).

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Junior Elizabeth Ensink, right, presents her research at Posters on the Hill in Washington, DC

One of only 60 projects selected for this year’s showcase from among several hundred highly competitive applications nationwide, “The First Inoculation Debate: A Quantitative Text Analysis of the Boston Smallpox Epidemic of 1721” by Ensink, looks at communication practices between doctors and religious leaders when a smallpox epidemic broke out in Boston. Puritan ministers saw inoculation as distrust in and interference with God’s will; doctors fumed at the meddling of ministers and “unlearned men” in scientific affairs; and all the while colonists, fearing for their lives, just wanted people in positions of authority to give them clear words of encouragement and actions of help.

It all sounds so familiar even today. History tends to eerily, annoyingly repeat itself.

Ensink, who is from Hudsonville, MI, became interested in the inoculation topic when looking through the digital Contagion Collection – historical documents about various epidemics and diseases – from Harvard. As a Mellon Scholar, she was set to conduct summer research after her sophomore year, and as a biology and creative writing double major, Ensink felt she found the right subject for her interdisciplinary interests.

So, using digitized documents and an online text analysis tool called Voyant, Ensink analyzed words that pro- and anti-inoculators would frequently used in their letters and other documents – words such as God, belief, providence, and symptoms, infection and incision. Not surprisingly, she found that doctors used mostly secular language and ministers spoke more in religious terms.  All except for Cotton Mather.

“This subject showed me how important it is to have people know how to communicate science to the general public. One of the most important parts of my research was questioning how we get meaning from words that are being used to convey vital messages.”

Mather, the fiery Puritan minister best known for his involvement in the Salem witch trials, was supportive of inoculation when he learned of it from his African slave and a report from the Royal Society of London, Ensink learned. Mather then encouraged Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to start inoculations. Though the practice was successful – 6,000 infected, 844 deaths overall, 280 saved due to inoculation –Mather and Boylston came under attack for the practice. And often it was because of the words they did or did not use.

“This subject showed me how important it is to have people know how to communicate science to the general public,” says Ensink. “One of the most important parts of my research was questioning how we get meaning from words that are being used to convey vital messages. In this case, religious and secular language was often blurred.”

Ensink presented those findings with her poster for two hours in the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill, where she also had the opportunity to engage with other students from Georgia to Utah, about biochemistry and anthropology and other various subjects. “This event exposed me to diverse projects and people from diverse institutions. It was an honor.”

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Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga with Ensink (center) and Dr. Karen Nordell Pearson, associate dean for research and scholarship (right)

After the prevention of her poster on the Hill, Ensink and Dr. Karen Nordell Pearson, associate dean for research and scholarship, had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Bill Huizenga at his office in the  Capitol. “It’s really cool that in America we can go and talk to our representatives in government about what we think is important. “

And what did they talk about?

“I told him that undergraduate research should continue to receive federal funding. Events like Posters on the Hill show what students can do when funds are available.

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Elizabeth Ensink on Capitol Hill

“I also let him know how important programs like Mellon Scholars are to undergraduates. Being in Mellon allowed me to develop my own project, gave me greater critical thinking skills and a great mentor who I met with twice a week.” Ensink’s mentor, Dr. Jonathan Hagood, is an associate professor of history at Hope College. “I learned self-motivation and the ability to overcome obstacles. This work stretched me and confirmed that in the future I want to focus on science and writing.”

In every way, Ensink’s research, and her experiences because of it, have given a potent shot to her strong academic arm. “I’m so thankful for the Mellon Scholars Program for all of this,” she concludes.

Flint Water Crisis in the Round

This past Monday night in Maas Auditorium, 13 bottles of water sat on a long table, each provided for one of the 13 people preparing to speak on an interdisciplinary panel about the Flint water crisis. One container of water, though, was not being consumed, nor would it be. Displayed at the center of the dais, a mason jar filled with water from Flint, Michigan, looking as benign and similar as the water in the other 13 bottles, was about to be examined from political, sociological, psychological, historical, scientific, artistic, ethical, and personal perspectives. Though the water in the jar appeared clear, the water crisis and its fallout and solution can seem anything but that.

Though the water in the jar appeared clear, the water crisis and its fallout and solution can seem anything but that.

IMG_2537Organized and implemented by Dr. Julie Kipp’s women’s and gender studies keystone class, the event gave an opportunity for a large audience to consider what has happened in Flint as well as providing a challenge for all to get involved and do something appropriate within their discipline or interest. The panel, made up of one student, 11 professors, and one president, discussed the very tragic, sometimes complex, and always upsetting issues revolving around the high levels of lead in Flint water and those who drank that water for over a year. Delivering their expertise from their various points of view within a five-minute time limit each, the panel continued to cast light upon light upon light onto a problem that has fallen out of the nation’s glare… for the time being anyway. This communal time of reflection also gave hope for understanding next steps in Flint.

“When you think about what a liberal arts college does best, it is learning how to think systemically and critically about complex things where the problems simply can’t be understood through a single lens. It requires us to think in the round.”

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Katlyn Koegel, far left, speaks as part of the 13-member Flint Water Crisis panel.

Speaking from personal experience, sophomore Katlyn Koegel, a Flint native, shared several stories about people she knows from home who are struggling and afraid—a small, thirsty boy who asked for bottled water from her last summer, a woman who may lose her business due negative media attention that has driven customers away, and a pastor who paid a $900 bill for water he was not even using. “What has been most heartbreaking for me is this dichotomy between breaking news and broken structures,” said Koegel. “A lot of facts and individual stories have gone down a chasm between the two.”

Historically speaking, Dr. Fred Johnson, declared that Flint has its proud roots in Native American origins and the founding of a General Motors plant there in 1908. “And many of you may know, it was the site of the 1936-37 GM sit-down strike which basically brought the UAW (United Auto Workers) to prominence, making it a major instrument in the labor movement.” Now, the city’s heritage is  being viewed only through a microscope created by this recent history.

“All politics are local.”

Politically speaking, Dr. Annie Dandavati, reminded the audience that “it’s important for all of us to be educated voters. Even though we sometimes feel that our voices are falling on deaf ears, it’s important to know about issues no matter where they originate—in the state capitol, nationally or globally. All politics are local.”

Sociologically speaking, Dr. Aaron Franken and Dr. Debra Swanson showed that race and socio-economic status are key to making sense of what is happening in Flint. “When looking at kids in Flint, here’s some points that are important and highlight social processes for health: One, if socio-economic status is linked to health, and two, decreased educational attainment is a key link to lower socio-economic status, and three, lead poisoning manifests itself in behavioral changes and in cognitive ability changes and thus a link to decreased educational attainment, and, four, sizable portions of residents (in Flint) don’t leave the area – so residential non-migration – then we’re going to have a potential geographic health issue with a very long memory in Flint,” said Franzen.

“This is a demographic of poor, black moms with kids who get no political attention.”

In 2013, the median household income in Flint was about half of that than in the rest of the state. The state median income is $43,000; in Flint it is about $23,000. Approximately 22% have a household income of less than $10,000 a year. Forty-one percent of those living in Flint are below the poverty line, 56% of the population is black, and 75% of the households are single-parent homes. “This is a demographic of poor, black moms with kids who get no political attention,” says Swanson. And yet those women have organized protests at the state capitol in Lansing as well as a movement with Lead Safe America Foundation, bringing attention to the crisis on Twitter with over three million tweets in two hours on February 4, using the hashtag, #StandWithFlint.

Psychologically speaking, Dr. Carrie Bredow offered one good news/bad news scenario: “We know that certain things can ameliorate some of the effects of lead poisoning (such as behavioral and cognitive disorders) though it’s not reversible. But based on the research, through things like good nutrition, having high-quality early childhood education and intervention, and consistent medical care, the level of its effects can be influenced. But these are the same things that children in Flint don’t have access to. So this is something that needs to be poured into in terms of how we stop this from affecting people in Flint inter-generationally.”

Scientifically speaking, Dr. Joanne Stewart and Dr. Graham Peaslee explained how lead got into the Flint water supply in the first place. “When they switched from (using) Lake Huron water to Flint River water (to save the city money), they had no corrosion plan in place (to keep the pipes from leeching lead into the water). That was one of the real shocking things that happened,” said Stewart. “It depends on which house you’re in (when looking at lead levels),” added Peaslee. “Some people have PVC pipes and no lead, others have lead and more lead in their pipes. It depends house to house what the effect was.”

“It’s comforting to suppose only terrifically terrible or malicious people can be responsible for these things but often it is only ordinary, everyday vice that leads to great evil.”

Morally speaking, Dr. Heidi Giannini enlightened with this: “One thing I think the Flint water crisis illustrates and what our response to it should bear in mind is that it is very hard to be good. However, that is no excuse for failing. The crisis in Flint illustrates at least one way it is hard to be good: we form bad habits (like laziness or self-interest) because most of the time they seem like they are not that big of a deal. When we foster these ordinary, run-of-the-mill bad habits, we foster the opportunity for great evil. We like to think that there is extraordinary vice underlying the horrible moral wrongs of what happened in Flint. It’s comforting to suppose only terrifically terrible or malicious people can be responsible for these things but often it is only ordinary, everyday vice that leads to great evil.”

Dr. Charles Green addressed environmental racism, citing evidence that shows more middle-class black families live in polluted areas than poor white families do. “Let me be clear: race is a real factor here… Black kids are three times more likely than white kids to have asthma (due to living in areas with poor air quality) and four times more likely to die from it. The environmental problems that we have addressed in this country over the last 30-40 years have largely benefitting the white population, and the environmental problems we have not addressed have largely impacted people of color.”

“We have to listen. We have to let our neighbors (in Flint) know that we’re here, not to own or claim the crisis as our own but rather to try to understand it.”

From an artistic standpoint, Rob Kenagy and Dr. Katherine Sullivan revealed how art and activism is giving people a news lens through which to view Flint. “The slam poetry coming out of Flint is hot…It’s important to remember that that art is made by real people,” said Kenagy, “and it’s just not something you can click past. There is a real voice behind it. We as readers have a responsibility (to hear it and see it), especially those of us from privileged spaces. We have to actually accept the trauma and invite it into our lives. We have to listen. We have to let our neighbors (in Flint) know that we’re here, not to own or claim the crisis as our own but rather to try to understand it.” Poetry and art is yet another way to do just that.

Finally, President John Knapp summed up the event this way: “Big problems don’t lend themselves to simple, small solutions. What I’ve really appreciated about this evening as I’ve listened to my colleagues here is that we’ve not only examined this problem from the perspective of art, philosophy, poetry, but also sociology, history, and political science. We’ve talked about biological and medical concerns; we’ve talked about psychological matters and even got into chemistry. Every one of those is important, and more, to really understand the nature of the problem. And what I’ve described is what we are about in the liberal arts at Hope. When you think about what a liberal arts college does best, it is learning how to think systemically and critically about complex things where the problems simply can’t be understood through a single lens. It requires us to think in the round.”