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Welcome to My World

My World

In her  research and teaching, Dr. Cancian examines the ways that separation, distance, and emotions are shaped and reconciled between  migrants and their families. Through her work,  she  explores  the ways in which people reconstructed experiences of displacement through the lens of gender, family, and memory. Her work shows that letters were critical in helping people feel close while apart. They helped people feel sustained and supported,  despite being separated for months and years. Migrants and their corresponding loved ones wrote letters, postcards, journals, diaries to stay in touch. In doing so, they remained connected with their inner selves.  

Dr. Cancian has devoted her professional life to teaching and mentoring students, and writing major research projects with international partners in universities. Her  papers, articles, and chapters are published in anthologies, magazines, and high-ranking academic journals. She has presented her research at conferences across the world (including, TEDx Lausanne) and has taught in Canadian and American universities, as well as in the U.A.E.  A recipient of numerous awards, fellowships, and grants, she holds research affiliations in Canada, France, and Australia.

TEDx Talk

In 1834, about 5 letters were mailed per person per year in England. Today, we receive more email than we have time to read. Love them or hate them, we blast others and are bombarded in return with social messages. Is our ability to connect massively and instantaneously making us feel any closer to each other? Or, are we now also falling into the trap of what George Bernard Shaw had warned us: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”?


In the talk, Sonia shares with us the discoveries of her research on how couples and families separated by migration wrote through letters about their joy and pain of love. If we pick up pen and paper to write to our loved ones, what would we write…?


Canadian historian, Dr. Sonia Cancian studies how migration has shaped gender, family, and emotional dynamics of migrants and their transnational families in Canada and Italy in the 20th century. She is best known as an expert in migrant letters, and especially love letters written in contexts of migration with the publication of numerous articles and her books, With Your Words in My Hands: The Letters of Antonietta Petris and Loris Palma (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2021), Emotional Landscapes: Love, Gender, and Migration, edited by Marcelo Borges, Sonia Cancian, and Linda Reeder (University of Illinois Press, 2021), Migrant Letters, edited by Sonia Cancian and Marcelo Borges (Routledge, 2018), and Families, Lovers, and their Letters: Italian Postwar Migration to Canada (University of Manitoba Press, 2010). In 2008-2009, Sonia Cancian initiated the Digitizing Immigrant Letters Project with Professor Donna Gabaccia at the University of Minnesota's Immigration History Research Center Archives. 


This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.


Learn more at

Digitizing Immigrant Letters

The Digitizing Immigrant Letters Project was initiated by myself and Professor Donna R. Gabaccia in 2008-2009 at the University of Minnesota and its partner locations where symposia, conferences, workshops, an exhibit, and other events were also held over the years. The aim of the project is to illustrate the intersections of intimacy and migration through varied selections of letters penned by migrants and their significant others from the 1850s to the 1970s in the U.S., Canada, and internationally.  The website features diverse letter collections available in their original languages and translated into English. Many of the letters are drawn from the Immigration History Research Center Archives at the University of Minnesota; new collections of letters are continually added to the award-winning Project.

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