ORIAS Speakers Bureau

Speakers Bureau

The ORIAS Speakers Bureau is not yet scheduling speaker requests for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Pending funding, new speakers will be selected in September. 

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.

Preparation: 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.

Courses: World History, African History, Asian History, Geography, Global Studies


Sickness and Health: Traditional Medicine in Peru

Speaker: Tracy Brannstrom

What do we believe about why we get sick and how we should treat illness? The phrase ‘traditional medicine’ conjures images of the pre-modern world, but this presentation explores contemporary practices and beliefs surrounding traditional medicine in the Peruvian Amazon. In and around the Amazonian city of Iquitos, the use of medicinal plants and spiritually-based healing techniques exist side-by-side with industrially-produced medications and ‘modern’ medical practices. Through original photography and video of urban and rural Peru, the speaker will introduce students to alternative notions of health, illness, mind and body. Students will also learn how Peruvian scientists make use of this store of traditional knowledge - namely in the development of pharmaceutical drugs. This talk leads students to consider the ways in which they, too, combine ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ practices and ideas in their lives.

About the Speaker

Tracy Brannstrom is a graduate student in anthropology & folklore at the UC Berkeley. She was raised in Chicago, completed her BA in anthropology at Mount Holyoke College, and has worked as a newspaper reporter in Vermont, where she researched rural health issues. Her current interests are pre-modern systems of medicine, alternative ideas of human consciousness and the self, and meanings behind the notion of ‘tradition.’

Suggested Audiences

Age: 5th – 12th grade and community college. This presentation is extremely visual and would be of interest to younger students. The abstract idea of “medical systems” might be lost on younger students, but the topic and presentation would still be engaging.

Preparation: Students in 7th grade and above should be familiar with the process of scientific inquiry, either by studying the Scientific Revolution or from their science classes.

World History, Geography, World Religions, Biology. This talk could also work in any course/unit focused on indigenous American cultures or economic development.


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


Wutong Art Village in Shenzhen, China

Speaker: Annie Malcolm

China has changed significantly in the last three decades, undergoing urbanization and industrialization on a scale never seen before. How do social scientists make sense of such radical changes? This talk explores creativity, art and urbanization in China through the lens of ethnography. Spaces like Wutong Art Village, on the edge of the huge city of Shenzhen, are portholes into understanding how artists work around changing conditions of life. This presentation uses examples of Chinese contemporary art, photos, prose, and accounts of interviews to show how a handful of Art Villages can be interpreted to better understand contemporary China. Students will develop a more nuanced and interesting understanding of modern China while learning how ethnographic research is conducted.

The presentation can work as a stand-alone experience, or as the introduction to an assignment in which students use what they learn to conduct an ethnographic research project within their own communities.

About the Speaker

Annie Malcolm has been learning Chinese since middle school. Having the opportunity to engage such a different language and culture from a young age formed her interest in anthropology, which she studied at Barnard College and continues to pursue as a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley. She has been to China eight times  - most recently for 18 months - and finds that, as a writer and researcher, Chinese art worlds and their relationships to Chinese cities are the most valuable muse with which to wrestle. Her ethnographic research incorporates photography, video, and interviews (which she translates from Chinese into English).

Suggested Audiences

Age: 7th – 12th grade and community college. Some of the more abstract ideas may be difficult for 7th graders, but the imagery and exploratory nature of the presentation would be interesting for engaged younger students.

Preparation: An introduction to Daoism and Buddhism in China would deepen student understanding of parts of the presentation, but is not necessary. Teachers should discuss with the speaker whether or not they plan to follow this talk with an ethnographic research project.

Courses: World History, Visual Arts or Art History, Mandarin, Geography, Anthropology 

Note: This talk is suitable for a Mandarin classroom and can be presented in Mandarin or a mix of Mandarin and English (depending on the proficiency of the class).


"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.

Preparation: None necessary, though students might find the presentation more meaningful if they are aware of at least one major argument about government spending. Examples might include: infrastructure spending, education spending, healthcare spending, etc.

Courses: Government, Global Studies, Economics, US History, World History


Language and Migration Seen through the Refugee Crisis in Germany

Speaker: Lindsay Preseau

When people migrate to a new country, they bring their languages with them. Even when the children of migrants become fluent in the language of their new country, they also often continue to use features of their heritage language in innovative ways. Though research has shown that mixing languages is normal, cognitively useful behavior of multilingual people, those who mix languages are often characterized as lazy or incompetent in both languages. This interactive talk shows how new languages are meeting and mixing in contemporary Germany in the midst of the recent refugee crisis and how migrant youth, in particular, are discriminated against because of the way they talk. More broadly, the talk explores multilingualism and invites students to draw connections to their own linguistic experiences.

About the Speaker

Lindsay is a PhD student in Germanic Linguistics at UC Berkeley. Having grown up in an English-speaking family in Germany, she has always been interested in language and multilingualism, and she completed her BA in Linguistics at the University of Michigan in 2011. When she started graduate school, she was interested in historical multilingualism in medieval texts. However, when the recent refugee crisis began in Germany in 2015, she chose instead to work with multilingualism in contemporary Germany, gathering data while she volunteered as a German teacher for refugee youth in Berlin.

Suggested Audiences

Age: 9th – 12th grade and community college

Preparation: Students should be introduced to the recent mass movement of refugees out of Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq into Europe. They will also benefit from awareness of debates in the US around English-only education and official communication. Teachers should prepare their classes by explaining that the topic is language use by refugees, not the overall refugee experience. Parallels to student experiences in the US will be easier to make with this preparation.

Courses: Peace and Conflict Studies, US History (as part of a unit on immigration), World History, World Litarature, World Languages, Peace and Conflict Studies, or any other context focused on human migrations, cross-cultural interactions, or language acquisition.


Race in Brazil: A Brief History

Speaker: Maria Reis

Brazil was the site of the largest slave-based economy in the Americas and the last country in the hemisphere to abolish the institution, in 1889. Today, some describe Brazil as a “racial democracy” – a place where clear racial categories and race-based discrimination do not exist. This presentation explores how and why ideas about race developed differently in Brazil than in the United states and ultimately challenges the idea that Brazil is a racial democracy. Through historical comparison, students will come to a deeper understanding of how ideas of race are constructed in different societies and they will consider the varied ways racial (in)equality can be described.

About the Speaker

Maria Reis is a graduate student in Berkeley’s Department of History, focusing on late colonial Latin American history. She was born in Brazil but moved to the Washington DC at the age of 11, so her personal background has played a large role in shaping her historical interest in comparing military conflicts and the institution of slavery in Brazil and the US. She received her undergraduate degree at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she focused on modern Spanish and Portuguese history. In her spare time, she loves listening to Brazilian music, practicing yoga, and cooking for others.


Suggested Audiences

Age: 8th – 12th grade and community college.

Preparation: This talk would be most beneficial to students who have already studied the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods.

World History, US History, Sociology, Government


'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 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.