In Conversation with Laura Sanchini, Acting Manager, Research, Contemporary Canada

March 28, 2023
Image of Laura Sanchini smiling

Laura Sanchini

You completed your PhD in Folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and you have been described as a folklorist. Can you describe what a folklorist does?

 A folklorist is interested in how people communicate their world — whether that be orally (stories, jokes, songs), behaviourally (rituals, dance, creation of memes), or materially (handicrafts, folk art). We study the culture of everyday life, and look for meaning and symbolism in often undervalued spaces. We have a passion for culture, history and humanity, and a dedication to the wisdom and insights borne of each.

How does your work contribute to a better understanding of Canadian history?

My discipline is centred around the documentation of contemporary living traditions and oral history. Ordinary people and their stories matter. Which means that we all matter, even when we do not think we do.

You are leading an exciting project called Shaping Canada. What is it, and why is it important?

Shaping Canada is a multi-year oral history project documenting the lived experiences of Canadians who have had a demonstrable impact on our country. We are documenting the interviews, and accessioning them into our national collection, to create a rich legacy for all Canadians. People are multifaceted and fascinating. Listening to someone tell their story, in their own words, is incredibly powerful.

How many participants have you interviewed to date and who surprised you most, and why?

We have conducted 13 interviews so far, and I am looking forward to continuing this work in the coming years. Every interviewee has been surprising in their own way. Sitting down with anyone for an in-depth, hours-long oral history interview is always insightful and eye-opening. I have interviewed more than 200 people in my life so far, and I have learned something new from each.

What do you hope the legacy of Shaping Canada will be?

I hope the legacy will be an enriched understanding of contemporary Canadian history and an accessible archive. The interviews we conduct for Shaping Canada are part of our audio-visual archives, so the public can access excerpts from the interviews and learn more about these change-making Canadians.

What do you enjoy most about your work at the Canadian Museum of History?

Working in a museum is so varied — no two days look the same! Because I am curious by nature, I like the variety of my work. But my favourite things are spending time with the collections and sitting down for an oral history interview with someone. It is such an honour to hold so many people’s stories within me.