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.


Borders and the Syrian "Refugee Crisis" in Jordan

Speaker: Heba AlNajada

How do different maps provide windows onto different worldviews? And how do these worldviews affect the human experience of moving from one place to another in the real world? This talk begins with an exploration of maps, then shifts to examine two models of hosting people displaced by war, oppression, and dispossession. The first is the experience of Syrians hosted in camps set up by the UNHCR near the Syrian-Jordanian border; the second is spaces of hospitality in which Syrians are offered sanctuary in Palestinian households - households that are, themselves, in a camp on squatted land.

Students will be invited to consider the ways maps shape our views of the world, including the impact of political and national borders on people’s everyday lives.  Though the talk is primarily focused on the current Syrian refugees, it introduces broad concepts that will be useful in any discussion of cross-border migration.

About the Speaker

Heba was born in Jordan and lived in multiple cities before going back to Jordan. Trained and educated as an architect and urban designer, she worked in Palestinian informal settlements before starting her PhD in Architecture History at UC Berkeley. Her family history and work played a major role in her interest in the question of migration, refugee camps, borders and the longer histories of the Middle East (most specifically the Levant). She received her undergraduate degree in Architecture at the University of Jordan and her masters degree in Urban Design from the University of Sheffield. Outside of studying and teaching, she loves cooking with her family and playing with her son.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. Some elements may be difficult for younger students, but the visual and exploratory nature of the presentation would be engaging for them.

Preparation: The speaker asks that the teacher complete a short (20-minute) school- or classroom-mapping exercise with students the day before the presentation. 

Also, familiarity with the current refugee crisis and some study of the Ottoman Empire and European colonialism in the Middle East would deepen student understanding of parts of the presentation, but is not necessary. Teacher is also welcome to confer with speaker ahead of time about topics.

Courses: World History, Ethnic Studies, Psychology, Geography, Anthropology, Art & Architecture History


Remembering Jewish Eastern Europe: Yizkor books and community memory after the Holocaust

Speaker: Jordan Brown

What is lost when a community is destroyed? How do those who once called this community home cope with their loss? Can the work of memory heal wounds that might otherwise fester? Can collective remembering rescue "home" from the abyss of exile? These and other similar questions are becoming increasingly important as upheavals of all sorts—social, economic, political, climatic—alter the face of our world at an ever-quickening pace.

Nevertheless, these challenges are not entirely unprecedented. After the Holocaust, the displaced progeny of destroyed Eastern European Jewish communities stood face-to-face with the void of a vanished world. Confronted with the utter ruin of communities often hundreds of years old, these survivors chose not to abandon their history, their world, but rather to recreate it in monumental collective works of remembrance known as Yizkor books. By studying these extraordinary documents—at once scholarly and personal, journalistic and creative—we come to understand the artistic and cultural resources that these orphaned communities drew upon in order to raise continuity and renewal from the ashes of destruction.

About the Speaker

Jordan is a graduate student anthropologist at UC-Berkeley. A California native, he first encountered Eastern European Jewish civilization via its linguistic arm, in the form of Leo Rosten's unparalleled The Joys of Yiddish. Since then, the Yiddish language and the imagined commonwealth it animates have revealed themselves to be endless sources of insight into the inextricable complexities of cultural specificity and universalism, tradition and change, and the making of meaning in a shifting world. When Jordan is not studying the Eastern European cultural landscape of seven to twenty decades ago, he is usually studying the Eastern Mediterranean cultural landscape of seven to twenty millennia ago. These two explorations have more in common than you might think.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th – 12th grade and community college 

Preparation: There is no preparation necessary, but students who have some familiarity with the events of the Holocaust will benefit more from the presentation.

Also, this presentation would be particularly meaningful to students who have recently read Night, by Elie Weisel, Maus by Art Spiegelman, or other similar literature.

Courses: World History, Ethnic Studies, Psychology, World Literature


Coping with Pressure: the consequences of losing legs for daddy long-legs

Speaker: Ignacio Escalante

Animals constantly face many pressures in their environment, including potential predators and parasites. To survive, animals have evolved some surprisingly extreme defensive strategies. For example, many animals voluntarily release body parts (legs, tails, etc.) when grabbed by predators. By doing so, they survive and escape, but are there consequences to losing body parts? How can the impacts of these survival strategies be studied?

This talk explores how scientists can measure the impacts of losing legs in the locomotion, physiology, ecology, and reproduction of daddy long-legs. By describing his experience doing fieldwork in the Costa Rican and Californian forests, and also lab work at UC Berkeley, the speaker describes how this topic can be studied.

About the Speaker

Ignacio Escalante is a Costa Rican field biologist, currently a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. He earned his BS and MS degree at the University of Costa Rica, both in biology. While exploring the tropical environments, he became interested in how animals respond to environmental pressures. His current research explores the ways animals have evolved defensive strategies to survive encounters with predators.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college, though more accessible to students in high school and above. Middle school students may need preparation in terms of vocabulary.

Preparation: Students would benefit from prior learning about evolution and natural selection. The teacher may want to request a vocabulary list to help prepare students ahead of time.

Courses: Biology or AP Biology, Environmental Science, any course in which you want to teach about methods of scientific inquiry.

Note: This talk can also be presented in Spanish.


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.

Preparation: Students would benefit from background knowledge of the Russian Revolution.

Courses: Art History, Film History, Film/Video  Production, 20th Century US History, World History


Studying Primates and their World

Speaker: Gustav Steinhardt

When people think about primate societies, they often imagine a small group organized around a dominant Alpha Male and his many females. But in some species, the central figure is a dominant female with many males.

How did that system evolve, and what can it tell us about social behavior in other primates, including humans? This talk explores the differences in primate societies, with a special focus on the scientific process - how we frame questions, the differences between lab work and field work, and how researchers draw on different domains of science in their work.

About the Speaker

At age 7, Gustav Steinhardt had a close encounter with a tamarin monkey at the National Zoo. He never recovered; now, as a fourth-year PhD student in Biological Anthropology, his interests lie at the intersection of behavior, neuroscience, and ecology. Before coming to Berkeley, he earned a BA from the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands, then an MA in interdisciplinary humanities from the University of Chicago. After finishing the MA, he switched into STEM and now works on the behavior and ecology of tamarins. His 20-year-old self would be surprised by his current career; his 7-year-old self would not.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college, though more accessible to students in high school and above. Middle school students will need preparation in terms of vocabulary.

Preparation: Students would benefit from prior learning about evolution and natural selection. The teacher may want to request a vocabulary list to help prepare students ahead of time.

Courses: Biology or AP Biology, Environmental Science, Psychology, Sociology


'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

Preparation: Students should have already studied, or be in the process of studying, World War I.

Courses: Ethnic Studies, Government, US History, World 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: 

Center for Latin American Studies

Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Institute of East Asian 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 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.