ORIAS Speakers Bureau

Speakers Bureau

The Speakers Bureau will not take new reservations until late October, 2021.

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.


Global Vikings: the untold history of the world's greatest travelers, from North America to the Arab World  

Speaker: Sara Ann Knutson 

The people from Scandinavia known as "Vikings" were infamous male raiders, pirates, and pillagers-- or so popular culture has led us to believe. But who were these people in reality? And what can the untold history of the Vikings and their global travels teach us about our own world today?

Students will explore the travels of the Scandinavian Vikings, from their settlements in North America, to the migrations of Vikings down the Volga River in modern-day Russia, to evidence of the Vikings riding camels to trade with Arab merchants in Baghdad and throughout the Abbasid Caliphate. This presentation also includes an investigation into the work of modern-day archaeologists, what they do, how they gather and interpret evidence to understand the past, and why their work matters.

Through this experience, students will explore how the past can help us better understand issues that affect our own lives, including race and ethnicity, social networks, human migrations and migrant narratives, and modern appropriations (and misuses) of history.

This presentation has great flexibility to address different levels of students, beginning with exploring what material objects can tell us about the world and the people who created them, the impressive and little known global connections between Vikings and the Abbasid Caliphate, to increasingly complex concepts of how history can be (and has been) distorted and appropriated for different social and political agendas. 

About the Speaker

Sara Ann grew up in Michigan and has lived in three countries abroad during her adult life. First trained in History at the University of Michigan, she became an archaeologist to study the travels of the Scandinavian Vikings and the people (from at least four continents!) that they interacted with. She holds an MPhil in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge and is currently working on her PhD in Anthropology at UC Berkeley. When she is not conducting research and teaching, Sara Ann enjoys learning languages, public speaking, traveling to new countries, training for the next big triathlon race, and sharing her passion for the global history of cultural interactions with communities around the world.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: There is no preparation necessary, though the talk will be more meaningful to students who have studied one or more of the following: the spread of Islam and the Abbasid caliphate, Medieval Europe, the European colonization of North America.

Courses: World History, Human Geography, Global Studies


How Mud, Trash, and Poop Reveal Ancient Climate Changes

Speaker: AJ White

Understanding climate change that occurred hundreds to thousands of years ago is difficult, so scientists turn to some unusual, and sometimes stinky, places to get paleoclimatic data. Feel how mud contains valuable information about former rainfall, evaporation, and temperature conditions at both the macroscopic and microscopic levels. See how trash left by ancient people lets archaeologists discover the impact of humans on the environment. Finally, smell how poop molecules can tie paleoclimatic and archaeological data together to assess the impact of climate change on civilizations of the past. 

About the Speaker

AJ was particularly impacted by the book "Everybody Poops" in the early 1990s and found an academic release for his interests during his master's work in geology at Long Beach State assessing the use of fecal molecules as indicators of population change. He continues his research in the Anthropology Department at UC Berkeley with an emphasis on how fecal molecules can unite paleoenvironmental and archaeological data to more effectively understand the complex relationship of humans and the environment.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 6th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: No preparation is needed ahead of time.

Courses: World History, Human Geography, Environmental Science, Chemistry, Earth Science, Biology


"Made in China"

Speaker: Patricia Yu

How do objects tell their stories? This talk uses objects of the early China trade (17th to 19th centuries) to demonstrate how movement across boundaries and between cultures can produce creative transformations—in objects and in people. "Made in China" may be seen as a mark of cheap, low-quality, mass-produced goods today, but in previous centuries, objects "made in China" were highly desired luxury goods, inspiring voyages around the world. One of the first goals of the new American nation was to send a ship to China and the relationships formed among the cosmopolitan group of merchants in the port city of Canton would shape not only the formation of the American nation, but also lay the foundation for our own global age.

About the Speaker

Patricia J. Yu was born in Los Angeles, California and studied history at Pomona College. As an undergrad she completed paid summer museum internships at the Chinese American Museum and the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College, eventually leading her to pursue a doctoral degree in the Department of the History of Art at UC Berkeley. Her research specializes in Chinese art history, cross-cultural translation and exchange, and cultural heritage. She has just completed a graduate curatorial fellowship at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, where she participated in the exhibition planning for the museum's gallery of Asian export art.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. 

Preparation: There is no preparation required, but students will benefit most from this talk if they have some familiarity with interactions between China and European powers in the mid-19th century, including the Canton system and the Opium Wars.

Courses: World History, US History, Ethnic Studies, Art & Architecture 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 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.