Speakers Bureau

What is the ORIAS Speakers Bureau?

The ORIAS Speakers Bureau is a cohort of graduate students who offer 45-minute presentations specifically geared to students from middle school to community college. Each talk models important Common Core Social Studies skills, such as analysis of texts and use of evidence to build an argument. Many talks include content that dovetails with History Social-Science Content Standards, while all talks offer opportunities for inquiry-based student engagement, as outlined in the new History-Social Science Framework. Most presentations are also appropriate for more than one grade level or subject, because they address broad questions while focusing on specific events and topics.


The Archaeology of the Swahili Coast: East Africa and the Indian Ocean

Speaker: Wolfgang Alders

In World History classes, the Swahili Coast of East Africa is often a side-note to discussions of Indian Ocean trading networks or the Islamic World. By contrast, this presentation addresses the Swahili Coast directly, as an African region with connections to other parts of the world. This introduction to the archaeological and historical record of the Swahili Coast invites students to consider several important questions: What is the difference between history, anthropology, and archaeology, and how do these disciplines affect our modern conceptions of Africa? Who lived on the Swahili Coast? What sorts of economic and cultural connections did the Swahili Coast have, both within Africa and in the larger Indian Ocean basin? How do archaeologists make meaning of evidence to answer questions about the past? By introducing and explaining the significance of numerous archaeological sites and artifacts, the speaker will teach students both about the Swahili Coast and about how archaeologists construct understandings of the past.

About the Speaker

Wolfgang was born and raised in the East Bay, and is now a graduate student studying archaeology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on the archaeology of agriculture, pottery production, and settlement on Unguja Island, the southern island of Zanzibar on the East African coast. His related interests include the Swahili language and Swahili poetry, the history of archaeology, and satellite remote sensing. He also enjoys stand-up comedy, playing a variety of string instruments, 1980s action movies, and ice cream sandwiches.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th grade – 12th grade and community college. Teachers should pre-introduce the basic geography of East Africa and the Indian Ocean basin before students see this talk. Such an introduction might include: (1) maps of modern nation-states in the region, (2) a review of the origin and spread of Islam, (3) maps depicting different Asian and African states and empires during the 1st and 2nd millennia CE, and (4) a brief explanation of the monsoon winds. An introduction to the Swahili Coast cities could be helpful but is not necessary.

World History: This talk primarily addresses the period prior to 1500 CE, with the majority of examples relevant to the period between 500 and 1500 CE.

African History, Asian History, Geography, Global Studies: The topics addressed in this talk touch on a number of regions and disciplines and would be at least partly applicable for many courses.


My Journey through the Climate Change Talks

Speaker: Diana Arce Reyna

The Paris Agreement adopted in 2015 represented an historic landmark for the climate change negotiations. This interdisciplinary talk delves into the process of negotiation and the outcomes. How do negotiators approach complex multi-lateral talks? Why do countries with different geographies and different economic profiles see this topic differently? What does the Paris Agreement actually stipulate and what challenges still exist to its implementation? Through this talk and their interaction with this speaker, students will have an opportunity to develop a more personal connection to a huge, global issue.

About the Speaker

Diana was born and raised in Lima, Peru. She is currently a Graduate Student at University of California, Berkeley for the Master of Development Practice Program. Diana is able to speak knowledgably on this topic because she served as a mitigation specialist for the Peruvian negotiations team under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change during 2014 and 2015. After this experience, Diana realized the importance of taking urgent action in climate change and would like to use her experience to create awareness and incentivize action on this matter.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th - 8th grade for its close look at real world collaboration skills, ideally 10th - 12th grade and community college for an interdisciplinary look at diplomacy, science, and economics.

Ecology or Earth Science: This talk will help students understand the current status of international goals and progress on climate change.

World History or Government: This talk will enhance students’ understanding of international treaties and diplomacy across history.

Geography: This talk will provide clear examples of the intersection between physical geography, economic development, and climate change concerns.


The Dargah and the Spread of Islam in South Asia

Speaker: Kimberly Kolor

Many people might be surprised to learn that the majority of the world's Muslims are located not in the Middle East, but in South and Southeast Asia. How historically might this have come about? This lecture presents a broad overview of the Hindu-Muslim historical frame from approximately 1000 to the present. Specifically, the talk addresses confusion about how Islam spread into the region. How does a religion spread peacefully? Through a focus on Sufi (Muslim) dargah shrines, the speaker will help students understand that the spread of a religion through “conversion” is actually a nuanced, complex process that can extend over generations. Through its use of material culture, this talk demonstrates ways that historians analyze and draw conclusions from artifacts.

About the Speaker

Kim is a first year graduate student in the MA/PhD program in the Department of South & Southeast Asian Studies whose area of study is Tamil-speaking Muslims in Sri Lanka from the British colonial period to the present. She completed her BA at Penn in Religious Studies and South Asia Studies with a minor in political science and spent one year in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright Research Fellowship before coming to UC Berkeley. She chose to speak about shrines and conversion because, as an undergraduate, she was excited to realize that what she was learning about shrines and ritual communities in the contemporary period could be used to understand histories hundreds of years ago.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. Younger audiences may require some pre-teaching of vocabulary.

World History: This talk fits perfectly into a unit on the spread of Islam across Asia. Alternatively, a class focused on the decolonization of India and the partition of India and Pakistan might use this talk to provide historical context.

World Religions: It is difficult to explain the imperfect relationships between religious texts, religious beliefs, and religious ritual. This talk uses concrete artifacts and examples to help students understand this complex topic. 


Soviet Communism and the Movies

Speaker: Dominick Lawton

Ironically, many of the techniques used in modern advertising and Hollywood films were developed in the Soviet Union as part of the broader propaganda project of politically educating the Soviet masses. Working for the newly created Soviet state in the 1920s, film-maker Sergei Eisenstein developed many of the techniques of modern filmmaking, which have now become standardized worldwide. This talk connects students' pre-existing familiarity with the vocabulary of cinema (via film, TV, or YouTube) to the particular — and, probably, unfamiliar — Soviet historical moment in which these techniques were actually developed. The historical connections between our modern media environment and early Soviet culture and politics lays the groundwork for further conversations about the power and place of art in society.

About this Speaker

Dominick was born in Australia and raised first in the United Kingdom, then in St. Louis. He learned the Russian alphabet in high school in Missouri, then started studying Russian literature, culture, and the Russian language after his first exposure to Sergei Eisenstein as a student at Yale University. He has taught English to middle and high school students in Russia, and worked in environmental advocacy in New Mexico. He is now working towards a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Berkeley. Besides Russia, his other interests include music and politics.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. The concepts presented are accessible for younger students, though chronologically the information will be unfamiliar.

World History or US History: This talk would fit perfectly into a unit about the Russian Revolution, but it would be equally useful in units about other communist revolutions, about the birth of modernism, about the rise of modern pop culture and mass media, and more.

Art History or Film History: This talk provides information about the origins of pivotal film techniques and visual motifs.


"Welfare" & "Capitalism"

How Countries Figure Out How Happy and Rich They Are and the Different Ways They Work to Become More So; Lessons from the Advanced Industrial Democracies

Speaker: Konrad Posch

Do words like “welfare” and “capitalism” have real meaning, or are they just employed for political purpose? Most of us would struggle to define the terms, even as we challenge others’ use. Faced with this variety of usage, political scientists have developed ways to describe and compare the different meanings of these words. As a result, we can talk about wide diversity in how countries actually practice capitalism. This talk will introduce students to the concept that there are different varieties of capitalism and worlds of welfare, with examples from modern Europe and the United States. By the end, students will have a practical framework to help them to understand the diverse political economies of the advanced industrial democracies. Additionally, they will learn how this framework can be useful to understanding other parts of the world. Last, the talk will give students tools to decode the statements of local, state, and national politicians as they become first time voters.

About the Speaker

Konrad is a Texan born to Californian parents. This dissonant identity first sparked his interest in government and governance because he was sure that the knee-jerk mistrust some of his peers had of "The ​Government" could not possibly be the full range of understandings of the place of government and politics in society. An avid fan of science fiction, Konrad's interest in the politics of technology grew from the speculative worlds of such authors as Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, Issac Asimov, and Frank Herbert. With formative readings such as the above, how could one not think about the political implications of technology and its governance in shaping the welfare outcomes different people experience and the ways we structure our economy?

Konrad attended the University of Texas at Austin for his bachelor's degrees, majoring in Physics and Government with a minor in Mathematics. After graduating, Konrad moved to Chicago to complete a Master of Arts in Social Science (MAPSS) degree at the University of Chicago, focusing on Political Science and Science and Technology Studies (STS). Having completed his masters, Konrad worked for several years in the private sector as a consultant for a firm that created e-commerce data and platforms for industrial supply companies. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley in the Political Science department. In his spare time, he enjoys the political intricacies of being an avid car enthusiast living in California with a (legally) modified car.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 8th - 12th grade and community college. The content might be accessible to younger middle school students, but it is chronologically applicable to a later period than is often covered in middle school World History. It would be very challenging, but applicable for a 7th grade unit focused on modern countries.

Government or Economics: This talk would be equally useful in helping students understand macro-economic concepts, powers of government, and comparative government systems.

US History or Global Studies: This talk would be extremely useful prior to a project involving research into a current issue, as it would give students a clear framework within which to interpret and analyze information. It would also be quite helpful as part of a unit on the Great Depression or the Marshall Plan, to help frame the political support and opposition to each set of policies.


'The Undiscovered Country': the 1923 Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey

Speaker: Christin Zurbach

In 1923, Greece and Turkey engaged in a population exchange. Orthodox Christians from the newly-founded Turkish Republic were forcibly deported to Greece and Muslims from Greece were likewise forced to emigrate to Turkey. This process, which effectively created 2 million refugees, was legally sanctioned by both states, written out in the Lausanne Treaty, and supervised by international law. This talk showcases the effects of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of nationalist thinking. Students will be invited to consider the impact of nationalism – usually a huge, impersonal concept - on individual people’s day-to-day lives. At the same time, the talk is an opportunity to explore the dynamics of refugee crises and draw parallels with the Syrian refugee crisis today.

About the Speaker

Christin is a second year graduate student in Berkeley's History Department in the field of Middle East history, in particular late Ottoman/Modern Greco-Turkish minority history and the press. She received her undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia in 2014 and then spent the following year in Ioannina, Greece, learning Modern Greek. She first became interested in this topic as a high school student, when she won a scholarship at 17 to study Turkish in Ankara for a summer. She grew up with Greek neighbors who had family from Turkey, and then stayed with a host mother in Turkey whose Muslim grandparents had been forcibly exchanged in 1923. She wanted to understand how the narratives from her neighbors in Philadelphia and her new friends in Turkey fit together. She wrote her undergraduate thesis on a newspaper written by Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians during the exchange and later presenting that at an academic conference in Cyprus - another space of Greco-Turkish encounter and conflict.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th – 12th grade and community college

World History or US History: This talk would fit perfectly into a unit on World War I, providing a way to understand the deceptive simplicity of terms like nationality and self-determination in the context of the former Ottoman Empire.

Government: This talk would be an interesting addition to a unit on nation-states, self-government, and citizenship.

Ethnic Studies: This talk would provide a useful foundation for a discussion about ethnicity, race, and citizenship. 



How are talks prepared?

Graduate student speakers underwent a multi-step process in designing their talks. The presentation topic was identified through discussion with ORIAS, to draw out the elements of their research that were most aligned with content standards, the new social studies framework, and Common Core skills.

Speakers presented draft talks to experienced teachers and made revisions based on teacher suggestions and questions. Teachers who engage speakers in their classrooms are asked to complete a short written follow-up review, as well, so that speakers are able to improve and adapt their talks.

How much does it cost to bring a speaker to class?

Presentations are currently free to schools, though speakers are paid for each engagement. The ORIAS Speakers Bureau is generously funded by UC Berkeley's eight area studies centers and institutes: 

Center for African Studies

Center for Latin American Studies

Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Center for Southeast Asia Studies

Institute of East Asian Studies

Institute of European Studies

Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

Institute for South Asia Studies

How do I request a speaker?

Each presentation description includes a "Book This Speaker" link. Your request will be sent to the speaker(s) you request via email and scheduling will be dependent upon speakers' personal availability and transportation. For best results, please try to schedule several weeks in advance. You must submit a separate request for each individual speaker.

What are the teacher's responsibilities?

ORIAS asks three things of teachers who engage speakers.

(1) Help the speaker work with your class.

Give the speaker a sense of class size, composition, and atmosphere. Let speakers know about presentation-related technology and be ready to copy paper materials ahead of time, if applicable to the presentation. If your class period is longer or shorter than 50 minutes, let speakers know so that they can adjust accordingly. Last, please work as partners with them, remaining in the room at all times and helping with classroom mamangement as appropriate.

(2) Prepare your class to engage with the speaker.

Some talks require a bit of pre-teaching of vocabulary or concepts, while others simply require guidance about behavioral expectations. All talks include some element of student engagement, so please let your class know that speakers will appreciate positive participation. If you feel a talk will be challenging for your students, please help set their expectations appropriately.

(3) Complete the short post-presentation review.

After a speaker comes to your classroom, you will be asked to complete a short review. This review will help individual speakers improve and will enable ORIAS to improve the Speakers Bureau as a whole. Your review is very important.