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.


La Vida Es Un Carnaval

Speaker: Levi Bridges

Summer carnivals evoke images of cotton candy and smiling children. But the workers who staff the state and county fairs all over the United States, many of who come from Mexico, are often routinely exploited. These Mexican carnies enter the United States legally on H-2B visas, but they and many of their American coworkers often receive wages of as little as two dollars an hour, are forced to live in roach-infested trailers and denied access to worker's compensation and basic health services. This talk uses Levi's personal experience working undercover in a California carnival to explore both the local and the trans-national aspects of a complex situation. The presentation intentionally situates this particular story within the larger history of industrialization, workers' rights movements, and globalization, helping students make the connection between major historical themes and their own lived experiences.

About the Speaker

Levi Bridges is a radio and print journalist and a Guy P. Gannett Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism where he is writing a book about the employment of Mexican guest workers in the traveling carnival industry. His writing has appeared in The Associated Press, The Washington Post and in Spanish on Radio Ambulante. He first heard about the plight of Mexican carnival workers while living in Mexico as a Fulbright Scholar, where he helped found one of the first shelters for refugees in Mexico City. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Alfred University in New York.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th grade - 12th grade & community college. Younger audiences who have not yet learned about the Industrial Revolution and related labor movements may find the topic interesting, but they may have trouble contextualizing it. In those cases, it would be extremely helpful to do some pre-work on reasons why (former) farmers might need to seek non-agricultural jobs.

World History or US History: This talk would work at any time in the curriculum after the advent of industrialization. Though the example is modern, the speaker uses textbook excerpts referring to earlier time periods to draw connections and comparisons.

Economics: The topics addressed in this talk touch on a wide variety of economic concepts.

California History, Global Studies, Ethnic Studies, Geography & more: Because it connects a complex local situation to global movements and major historical themes, it is easily applied to many different courses.


North Koreans Crossing Through the Borders

Speaker: Sunkyung Choi

Though the border between North and South Korea is tightly controlled, tens of thousands of North Koreans have left home by way of their northern border with China. Where do these migrants come from, why do they choose to leave, how do they maintain their lives in China, and why do some of them choose to make their way to South Korea rather than remaining just across the border in northeastern China? This talk addresses these questions using maps, photographs, video, and accounts of interviews with individual migrants. The talk invites fruitful comparisons with other historical and present migrations.

About the Speaker

Sunkyung is a PhD student and a visiting student researcher from South Korea, majoring in Korean Studies and focusing on North Korea. She did her Master’s degree in China, majoring in Ethnology. After graduation, she worked as a researcher studying Korean Chinese, and at that time she travelled to the Sino-North Korea borderland for field work several times. She is interested in social issues related to migration and minority groups.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th – 12th grade and community college. Even though the presentation includes maps, teachers should pre-teach the basic political geography of East Asia.

World History and US History: This talk would fit well into any unit focused on other migrations, either historical or contemporary. It could also be used to provide depth to a topic that is often given short shrift in US History courses: the Korean War.

Asian History: Because the mechanics of North Korean migration are so interwoven with the political relationships between China, North Korea, South Korea and the United States, this talk would help students in a regional history course understand politics in the post-1950 period. 


The Politics of Plants in Philippine Colonial History

Speaker: Kathleen Gutierrez

What makes plants political? What do tobacco, mahogany, and jasmine have to do with Philippine colonial history? This talk explores the politics of three plants across the Spanish and U.S. colonial periods in the Philippines. At the end of the talk students will be able to 1) identify at least three plants that significantly shaped Philippine colonial and anti-colonial history, 2) recognize the similarities between the Spanish and U.S. imperial projects in the Philippines, and 3) explain the politically charged character plants and the study of them.

About the Speaker

Kat is a public health worker by training, a Ph.D. student in Southeast Asian Studies, and a lover of all things coffee. Her doctoral research focuses on the history of colonial botany in the Philippines. This focus, as she explains in her talk, is both deeply personal and political. In a previous life, she worked in K-12 school-based healthcare and in transnational political organizing. Though she now calls many places “home,” her “soul will always be Los Angelena.”

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th – 12th grade and community college. This talk would be accessible for younger students, but chronologically it addresses a later period than most middle school World History courses.

World History or US History: This talk provides a unique case study to help students understand colonial and anti-colonial movements. It would also re-frame ideas about Enlightenment thinking to help students understand why the drive to research and categorize the natural world had practical consequences that extended far beyond “pure” science.

Biology or Environmental Studies: This interdisciplinary presentation will help students understand the social, political, and economic scope of fields like botany, which many of them may consider abstract and academic.

Ethnic Studies: This talk contextualizes the Philippines in World History from the vantage point of the Philippines, using Filipino voices to describe the anti-colonial experience. 


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.


A Possible History of Mad Love

Speaker: Anna Levett

When we teach history, we often situate pivotal ideas firmly within the history of a particular region or group of people. Is this a simple matter, or can ideas travel and have contested origins, just like material objects? This talk explores the artistic and literary concept of “mad love” within surrealism, and then traces its origin backwards in time. While most people assume that “mad love” is a European idea, the speaker proposes an alternative history for this concept, wherein it began in the Middle East and traveled westward with the expansion of Islam. Students will be introduced to the idea of intellectual history and gain insight into intercultural contact between Europe and the Middle East. In the process, they will get a taste of how scholars both construct and challenge historical narratives.

About the Speaker

Anna is a PhD candidate in comparative literature at UNC-Chapel Hill (but currently living in Berkeley with her partner). She specializes in 20th-century French and Arabic literature, and have additional interests in Mediterranean Studies and film. She arrived at her area of study after living in both France and Turkey, and feeling that there was a shared culture in those two places that was not adequately addressed because we have traditionally treated those as separate, disconnected regions. This evolved into a focus on Arab culture, rather than Turkish, during graduate school.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th - 10th grade AP (or similar), 11th - 12th grade and community college 

ive Literature, Ethnic Studies, World History, Comparative or World Literature, Art History: This talk would support any conversation about where ideas and intellectual developments come from. Because it addresses the history of an artistic and literary idea, it fits into multiple disciplines.


"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.


Picturing Propaganda: Images and Power in the Soviet Union (and Beyond)

Speaker: Joy Neumeyer

Where is the line between propaganda, art, and news? How do visual artists communicate specific ideas about power and leadership? This talk addresses these questions by examining monumental statues and paintings in the Soviet Union, and how they were destroyed, altered, or replaced when a new leader came to power. While teaching some of the broad strokes of Soviet history, this talk also uses images of Soviet (and other) leaders to help students think critically about "propaganda.” Students are guided through an exploration of how power is communicated through images. The talk concludes by looking at examples from the contemporary world.

About the Speaker

Joy grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia and attended Brown University, where she majored in History and Slavic Studies. After conducting research in Russia on a Fulbright grant, she stayed on for several years as a journalist in Moscow, where she wrote for publications including The Moscow Times, Art News, Vice, CNN Go, Russian Life, Women's Wear Daily, and Cat Fancy. She also worked at RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency that closed in 2014 in the midst of a countrywide media crackdown. She is currently a PhD student in History at UC Berkeley, where she enjoys writing, teaching undergraduates, and hunting down free pizza.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. This presentation relies heavily on student participation and interpretation of visual images. It is appropriate and accessible for all ages.

World History and US History: Chronologically this talk is appropriate for a modern World History or US History class. Conceptually, the talk would be useful in courses covering much earlier periods as a means of helping students understand the power and purpose of state-produced art and architecture.

Art History: This talk could be useful in an art history course because it draws connections between specific visual motifs and artistic traditions and political power. 


'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.