Pop Culture Teaching World History

How much of world history can I relate to the Hunger Games? All of it.

One year I had a student keep track of every time I referenced the Hunger Games in my world history class. The tally was around 8 by the end of the second week of school. So… yeah. I’m definitely getting my money’s worth on that masters degree.

Don’t believe me? How dare you, sir. How dare you.

Before I start, let me say that this is one of my superpowers and one of my favorite hobbies. Comment below if you have a favorite book or movie that you want me to relate to World History! While you brainstorm, here we go…

The Ancient Era (8000ish BCE – 600 BCE)

The Hunger Games is essentially just an illustration of the changes that occurred because of the Neolithic Revolution (or the discovery of agriculture for those of you who didn’t listen to Episode 1 of my podcast.) Before the Games, Katniss is paleolithic. She spends all of her time hunting and gathering, worried about how to feed her family. After she wins the Games (#spoileralert), she is able to settle into The Victors’ Village, a more established community, and she is forced to specialize her interests now that she has a steady surplus of food. Boom.

The Classical Era (600 B.C.E. – 600 C.E.)

This one’s not really fair because basically the ENTIRE world of The Hunger Games essentially plagiarizes Rome but here we go…Panem, the name of the country in the Hunger Games, is “Bread” in Latin. In the Roman Empire they instituted a policy of “Panem et Circenses” or “Bread and Circuses” – basically if they kept the people fed and entertained, they would not pay attention to the corruption and power plays amongst the Senators and Emperors.

The Hunger Games are very similar to the Gladiator fights and other forms of entertainment in the Roman Empire. Emperors like Nero are famous for using the Coliseum to eliminate enemies to the empire (especially Christians).

So many of the names are straight from the Roman Empire. Cinna was a politician involved in the assassination of Julius Caesar. Cato was a senator known for his conservatism and military service (like Cato who was trained to fight and supported the Games until the end). The Roman names are found in the Capitol (the wealthy part) but the districts have more unique, nature-based names – Katniss is a plant, for example.

The Postclassical Era (600 – 1450 C.E.)

In the Hunger Games, social hierarchy is extremely important – districts are made to compete against each other to take attention away from corruption in the Capitol. We have seen this throughout history – leaders have tried to divide civilizations to keep them from uniting against them. In the Postclassical Era, the early Islamic caliphate led by the Umayyads declared Islam an ethnic religion and split their empire between Arabs, who were allowed to join the faith, and non-Arabs, who were not. We’ve seen this type of thing so many other places in history – the Chinese Confucian system and the Five Basic Relationships that strictly regulated everyone’s “place” in society; the Indian caste system introduced by the Aryan (no, not those Aryans) invasion; the castas in colonial Latin America who were divided up between mestizos, mulattoes, peninsulares, and creoles, all with different rights and responsibilities.

The Early Modern Era (1450 – 1750 C.E.)

The economic system in the Hunger Games is similar to mercantilism during the Early Modern and Modern eras. All products are produced by the outlying districts but go through the Capitol, which retains most of the wealth. Also, each district aligns its entire economy around the production of one cash crop or industry which means that on their own they wouldn’t have a fully functioning economy or enough food to survive. This is imperialism. District 12 can’t eat coal, just like American colonies couldn’t survive on sugar and tobacco alone, although I hope one day we can live that dream.

The Modern Era (1750 – 1914 C.E.)

The entire trilogy is a good dissection of political revolutions, like those of the Modern Era. Propaganda is a very important tool for both sides, much like political cartoons during the French and American Revolutions. The Hunger Games revolution at first looks like the Haitian Revolution – where those at the very bottom (slaves in Haiti) rebelled. But by the third book, it is more like the American Revolution – controlled by elites at the top (former Gamemakers in the Capitol and political leaders from District 13 in the Hunger Games; wealthy plantation owners in the American colonies). All of this begins, obviously, because of the elite ruling class who are completely out of touch with the people and obsessed with hair and fashion. All we need now is for President Snow to say, “Let them eat cake.”

The Late Modern Era (1914 – today?)

The United States was essentially District 13 up until 1914. We just wanted to stay out of Europe’s way, industrialize, and finish Manifest Destiny-ing all over the western hemisphere. But both World Wars were a call to action, similar to the uprising across Panem. District 13 could no longer sit by with its weapons and watch the world burn, they had to step in and fight Hitler, I mean, President Snow. And in the wake of our victory, we stepped into that superpower role and didn’t always make the best decisions with our new power (ahem, Alma Coin).


Y’all I love the Hunger Games so much. But what I love even more is making connections between super fun and fictional books and movies to incredibly real and important historical events. What book or movie do you want me to do next?!

1 thought on “How much of world history can I relate to the Hunger Games? All of it.”

  1. “Handmaid’s Tale”, by Margaret Atwood, is one of my favorites and I feel like we are headed in that direction. However, I’ve felt the fear of religious fundamentalism ever since I first read the book in 1996. I truly love what you do, Emily. Thanks

Comments are closed.