ORIAS Speakers Bureau

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.


Contemporary Memory Wars: Lessons for the United States from Eastern Europe

Speaker: Pawel Koscielny

Fights over Civil War monuments in the US have forced Americans to face and try to work through painful, controversial, and profoundly divisive aspects of their collective past. At the same time, history appears increasingly central to public life, with calls to make the nation great again from the Right and to institute a 'Green New Deal' from the Left. Young people may struggle to understand why past events, even as they recede further in time, have come to haunt the public spheres around them so intensely at this moment.

How did other societies work through collective traumas and violence? Which kinds of collective memory-politics have paradoxical effects, sewing further division and social conflict?

This talk illuminates these questions for American students by placing their society's current struggle with collective memory in context with experiences of memory wars in post-communist Germany, Poland, Czechia, and Hungary. Students will learn what these societies did with their own divisive monuments, the outcomes of those decisions, and the lessons they may hold for the US, as its struggle with memory unfolds.

About the Speaker

Pawel Koscielny is a PhD candidate in history at UC Berkeley. After migrating to Canada as a child from Poland,  he studied Central and Eastern European history for fourteen years. He is completing a dissertation about public history, memory politics, and the crisis of democratization in Central Europe after 1989. Prior to beginning the PhD, he interned in the Polish Institute for National Remembrance as an archivist of communist-era secret police files. 

Talk Format

This talk is available in virtual format. The speaker will work with the teacher to determine how the teacher will help mediate discussion and interactive voting that is a part of this lesson.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th - 12th grade and community college

Preparation: Students should be pre-introduced to the broad outlines of the monument controversy in the US. They should also be aware of the existence of the Soviet bloc between the end of World War II and the fall of the USSR.

Courses: World History, US History, Global Studies, Art History, other history-social science courses


Poems and Policies of Transnational Labor Migration

Speaker: Jenny Silver

This talk looks at the experiences of transnational labor migrants in Southeast Asia through the lens of contemporary poetry written by domestic workers in Singapore. Students will use two primary texts to explore a critical question in the history of Singapore’s migration policy: whether it is necessary, reasonable, or ethical to require that domestic workers pass a test to prove English proficiency. First, we will read an excerpted newspaper opinion piece advocating for the elimination of the English-language Entry Test. Second, we will analyze a poem authored by a domestic worker recalling the testing experience. What audiences do the authors of these texts have in mind? What do the authors want their audiences to know and feel? Finally, what does the poem tell us that we could not otherwise learn? Examining these sources together, the talk demonstrates how and why we might combine the social sciences and language arts to enrich our understanding of a complex social issue.

About the Speaker

Jenny Silver is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, where she studies labor migration and poetic expression in Southeast Asia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Religion from Princeton University and master's degrees from the National University of Singapore and the University of Oxford, which she completed with the support of Princeton’s Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Graduating Scholarship.

Talk Format

This talk is available in virtual format. The speaker will work with the teacher to determine how the teacher will help mediate discussion within the classroom.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th - 12 grade and community college

Preparation: There is no preparation necessary. The talk will be more meaningful to students who have some awareness of modern labor migration.

Courses: Global Studies, World Literature, Poetry, World History (modern)


Writing Russia’s Wild East: Siberia in the Russian Imagination

Speaker: Maria Whittle

How do the stories we tell about natural places impact our relationships to them? This talk will take students on a journey across space and time to explore Siberia, Russia’s largest frontier region and consider how it compares to its US counterpart.

Students will learn about Siberia’s unique role in Russian culture through the stories that have been told about it. Using historical documents, art, and excerpts from literary texts, students will learn about the various ways that Siberia has been imagined by European Russians: as a mysterious land full of furs and ice; as Russia’s own version of the American dream, where outsiders and visionaries could find freedom to express themselves; as a fearsome place of exile and death, and as a treasure trove of resources to be harnessed for the betterment of society – a symbol of utopia and progress for the Soviet Union. The talk also explores Siberia through the eyes of Indigenous people and descendants of early settlers. 

By understanding Siberia as an example of settler colonialism similar to that of the United States, students can think more critically about our own stories about California and the American West. 

About the Speaker

Maria was born and raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC and fell in love with Siberia and Russian language/culture more broadly as a high school exchange student in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a small city surrounded by volcanoes and tundra in Russia's far east. After graduating with a degree in Russian/Eastern European Studies from Pomona College, she decided to make her love for Russian and teaching into a career and enrolled in a PhD program at the UC Berkeley Slavic Department, where she is now writing her dissertation. Her research focuses on Siberian literary responses to Russian settler colonialism, with a particular focus on the ways in which history, ecology, and indigenous knowledge impact literary depictions of space. When she is not doing research, Maria particularly enjoys using her love of teaching and learning languages to help facilitate cross-cultural communication: recently in summer 2019 she led a group of American students on a summer language-learning trip to the Russian countryside.

Talk Format

This talk is available either virtually or in person (in the Bay Area).

Suggested Audiences

Age: 8th - 12th grade and community college

Preparation: There is no preparation necessary. This talk would be particularly helpful at the end of a unit about US Westward conquest/expansion.

Courses: US History, American Literature (especially connected to reading connected to the US West), World History, Art History.



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 area studies centers and institutes at UC Berkeley and by the California Global Education Project, one of the California Subject Matter Projects: 

California Global Education Project

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

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 management 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.

Where can I find more speakers?

The University offers an extensive list of potential speakers for events featuring 40+ audience members. You can find out more at the UC Berkeley Speakers Bureau page.

The Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion also hosts a speakers bureau. Like ORIAS speakers, their speakers offer prepared talks. Click the logo to learn more.

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