History and WEB in United Kingdom


2012 (tv) | 2014 (web) | 2016 (web) | 2016 (tv) | 2017 | 2018

by Erin Bell, Florian Gleisner

Our focus, in order to draw parallels to TV programming in the same period, was:

  • Coverage of VE Day
  • Coverage of Europe Day
  • Coverage of Shakespeare’s death-day

We mainly considered the coverage of a 4-week period 23/5/16-20/6/16 although we only considered a week on Shakespeare as there is too much material to analyse globally (as the anniversary is being commemorated all year in 2016, across the globe). We considered Facebook, Twitter and blogs, in the main.

We followed the Dutch team’s guidelines, and therefore identified what hashtags have been used, e.g. #VEDay and #VEDay2016, #Shakespeare400 and #EuropeDay to see Twitter discussion, in addition to identifying relevant blogs by using https://www.google.com/alerts to enter a search word, after which we began to receive daily emails about Europe Day, VE Day and Shakespeare 400. However, in both cases, because of the global use of the English language, even beyond Anglophone nations, the material we analyse here comes both from the UK and other Anglophone nations such as the USA, but also, for example, European nations which use English as a shared second language. Interestingly, for both Shakespeare’s anniversary and VE Day, it was not possible to continue the capture of material until the commemoration had ended as both are running for much longer periods; Shakespeare400 for a whole year, and VE Day commemoration seems virtually continuous with no particular ‘high point’, a source of discontent amongst some online commentators who would have liked to have seen more commemoration in 2016, possibly reflecting on the large amount of commemoration on the 70th anniversary in 2015 (see below).



Samples of VE Day related online commemoration are given below: there were only 4 tweets (in the whole of Twitter) using the tag #VEDay2016 at the time of analysis, several weeks after VE Day. This may reflect the ongoing nature of VE Day commemoration both in and out of ‘season’, making a new, annual hashtag less useful for online commemoration. Given the politically fraught environment in the UK in May/June 2016, around the time of the referendum, it is not surprising that VE Day, and UK veterans, became a focus for those representing both sides of the debate, and reiterated online interest in international conflict in earlier decades. Three of the four tweets were identifiably by UK authors and are as follows (images included):





Analysis of #VEDay (via https://twitter.com/search?q=%23veday&src=typd) revealed responses from a range of nations, in English, which of course will have been accessible to viewers in the UK. The nations represented were predominantly the UK, USA and Canada as well as some European nations such as Poland. Unsurprisingly, much of the UK material used VE Day to reflect on Britain’s position in the EU. For example, there was some comment on the lack of public acknowledgement of VE Day in the UK in 2016, for example by the UKIP (UK Independence Party, anti-EU) follower ‘skutterdan’ on 6 June, which is unsurprising given UKIP’s focus on ideas of patriotism, and its apparent loss in the UK, during the months preceding the referendum. Other commentators, though, included images of commemoration from 2016 in Arras (e.g. ‘paxcyclist’ 26 May). Returning to the use of VE Day to comment on contemporary politics, some (including US) commentators used the hashtag to comment more directly: Harriett Baldwin to discuss the WW2 veterans who wished the UK to remain in the EU, and Donna McGuinness to note that whilst Donald Trump remained a candidate in the US presidential elections, ‘our future is in the hands of the enemy’. Institutions such as the UK-based non-profit education organisation The Churchill Centre offered material (‘10 facts about VE Day’) and other educational institutions in both the UK and elsewhere offered resources (e.g. ehistory.osu.edu/topics/wwii, a US university website). Other British charities used commemoration of VE Day to raise awareness of appeals for funding: the Royal Voluntary Service advertised its kickstarter appeal to raise money in order to digitise the diaries of female volunteers during WW2.


Analysis of #EuropeDay (via www.twitter.com/hashtag/europeday) again revealed responses from a range of nations both within and outside the EU. There was, however, very little British use of the hashtag representing, perhaps, an ongoing failure of many UK institutions to engage officially with commemoration of the EU. The bodies using it were mainly Anglophone and included the ‘EU in Canada’, other EU groups, and in one instance an Irish commentator discussing the burning of the EU flag in Ireland. The only UK sources located were: the ‘UK in Moldovia’ (the UK embassy, tweeting that their football team had come 3rd in the embassy competition); ‘The Fogey’s’ [sic], an anti-EU membership group who uploaded a picture of Queen Elizabeth II as a pro-Brexit monarch (https://twitter.com/TheFogeys); and some Welsh material from the European Commission in Wales on 17 May. The latter is hardly surprising given the large amount of funding received by Wales and yet the lack of Welsh support for staying in the EU.


Analysis of #shakespeare400 (via www.twitter.com/hashtag/shakespeare400) revealed mainly Anglophone responses with a great deal of coverage of US and UK performances, as well as some discussion of Shakespeare’s first folio having been bought at auction by the State Library of New South Wales. Unlike #EuropeDay or #VEDay, #Shakespeare400 was little used for wider political commentary or indeed to encourage a sense of national identity; rather, the vast number of tweets encouraged a sense of the universality of Shakespeare’s work, discussed further below.


Following the Dutch team’s guidelines, the same three hashtags were searched for. The results were broadly similar as for Twitter.

Europe Day

Six weeks’ worth of material relating to Europe Day was considered, dating from Europe Day for the following 6 weeks. The English-language setting was used but even so, most of the material was not UK-generated, which may reflect the greater British interest in the referendum at the time, although also a long-running lack of official British recognition of the commemoration. English-language material included coverage of ‘Irexit’ (the call for a referendum in Republic of Ireland), and other non-UK, EU-based groups such as the European Commission, the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament; the European Greens; and the ‘EU in the US’. One example of a UK-based use of the hashtag was the Telegraph newspaper’s article on places to see in Europe ‘before you die’. The middle-class readership of broadsheet newspapers such as the Telegraph were perhaps more likely to vote for remain in the referendum, and may have been more likely to have seen the benefits of the EU in terms of their own capacity to visit or even live elsewhere in the continent. The Telegraph article was, though, a rare exception: the lack of coverage of Europe Day otherwise speaks volumes about the perceived lack of interest in positive depictions of the EU/Europe, in the UK.


Like Europe Day, material for #Shakespeare400 was checked from 23 April (the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death) for the following 6 weeks (via https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/shakespeare400 ). However, coverage in this instance was mainly UK-based, in the form of advertising or comments on productions of Shakespeare. However, some non-UK advertising of productions was also located, as well as commemoration by other, international groups such as CNN, NASA and the European Commission.

VE Day

The large volume of material for #VEDay (via https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/veday) meant that only the period immediately surrounding the date was considered: 8 May-10 May. The coverage was mainly Anglophone, with a great deal of US material, and some UK based, all of which would be accessible and understandable to a UK audience. The material offered was wide-ranging, including primary sources such as photographs and historical film footage: the SFGate (news website) uploaded 1945 footage of celebrations in San Francisco artists mocking Hitler in 1945 whilst Colorado Technical University uploaded Churchill’s victory speech. However, C21st responses to commemoration were also included, with reports on, for example, the lack of recognition of USSR deaths during WW2. US-based Facebook sites included advertisements by militaria websites; accounts of the deaths of veterans such as the oldest US veteran who died aged 110 on news websites; and commemoration by the US Department of Defense. The most popular UK material was via the BBC1 Facebook site; the Hello! Magazine site (specifically, their coverage of the Queen meeting veterans on 10 May); the Science Museum (London) on ‘Churchill’s scientists’ exhibition; the British Film Institute (BFI) archive footage of Gateshead on VE Day; and the British Museum’s post about a commemorative medal dated c.1945. Although there was some use by US and UK groups of footage of C21st commemoration, in 2016 original footage was more often used, possibly because there was less commemoration locally in 2016 compared to the 70th anniversary in 2015.

Google Alerts

Following the guidance of the Dutch group, we also signed up for Google Alerts relating to the 3 key commemorative events.

Europe Day

Google Alerts relating to Europe Day were UK-based or Anglophone EU-based, including the UK wing of the Reuters news agency.

The latter intriguingly commented on 4 June on Brexit as ‘bringing out UK’s ‘World War 2 fixation’(see http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-worldwartwo-idUKKCN0YP1XO), and noted UKIP’s use of the music from the WW2 film The Great Escape in their campaigning, as well as the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s counter-argument that Winston Churchill had sought  post-war union in Europe. Other news providers were more critical of Cameron; the right-wing Sun newspaper (see e.g. www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/6904893/Who-do-you-think-you-are-kidding-Mr-Cameron.html) positioned Cameron as at best a farcical leader, who was failing the UK, and likened him in some respects to Adolf Hitler (the article’s title ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Cameron?’ draws on the WW2 patriotic song ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler?’ and therefore suggests parallels between the two).

Other Europe Day material appearing in the news included, on 23 May, Mona Siddiqui writing in the  Scotsman newspaper website on support for staying in Europe: www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/mona-siddiqui-support-for-staying-in-eu-growing-by-the-day-1-4135098 –the account included references to recent history as part of her argument for remaining, for example ‘The European Arrest Warrant brings terrorists and other criminals back to face justice across EU boundaries – including one of the 21/7 bombing gang in London in 2005, who had fled to Italy.’ That Scotland broadly voted to remain in the EU and is currently undertaking discussions with the EU to this effect suggests that her sentiments found support in the Scottish nation.

Intriguingly, one of the few accounts online which identified the overall paucity of coverage of Europe Day was offered on 25 May by the iNews website (https://inews.co.uk/opinion/remember-schuman-day-brexit-debate-take-note-french-lawyer-helped-found-europe/) which made reference to a ‘referendum campaign peppered with attempts by both sides to hitch history to their cause’ and went on to suggest:

‘But as the leave and remain camps exchange salvoes citing Churchill and parallels with Hitler, it might be well to revisit the words of a woman in this battle fought over male-dominated decades.

‘As Simone Veil, a survivor of Auschwitz and the first female president of the European Parliament, put it: “Europe’s destiny and the future of the free world are entirely in our hands.”’

VE Day

News located via Google Alerts in relation to VE Day was predominantly UK-based, and often regional. For example, on 31 May the Larne Times, a Northern Irish newspaper, offered a retrospective on the 1995, 50th anniversary, commemorations of VE Day http://www.larnetimes.co.uk/news/your-community/nostalgia/looking-back-larne-marks-50-years-since-ve-day-1-7402052, which itself reveals a desire to focus on international commemoration rather than the much more painful and traumatic recent history of Northern Ireland. In a similar manner, on 2 June the Wiltshire Times newspaper online offered an account of a 94-year-old local man who had received the Legion D’Honneur more than 70 years after returning home on VE Day: www.wiltshiretimes.co.uk/news/14530137.D_Day_Veteran_receives_Legion_D__39_Honneur/ whilst on 6 June the Grimsby Telegraph newspaper online offered a history of Hope Street in the town, including a photograph of its VE day celebrations in 1945: www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/know-throw-party-Hope-Street/story-29362895-detail/story.html

Shakespeare Anniversary

Analysis of coverage of ‘Shakespeare 400’ via Google Alerts was limited to 1 week, the 23-29 May. This began a month after the anniversary date of 23 April, but there was still a large volume of material to be considered within the anniversary year. The majority was Anglophone but a large proportion was not UK-based although it would be accessible for UK readers and so has been considered here. For example, the Chicago Sun Times coverage, on 23 May, of the Chicago city Shakespeare celebration (http://chicago.suntimes.com/entertainment/shakespeare-history-plays-linked-to-evoke-state-of-perpetual-war/) was available on the same day as the (UK) Daily Express’s news article on the BBC’s production of Shakespeare plays (http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/martin-townsend/672676/benedict-cumberbatch-hollow-crown-try-shakespeare-again), the (Canadian) Chronicle Herald’s piece on Rufus Wainwright’s (a Canadian singer) album based on Shakespeare’s work: (http://thechronicleherald.ca/artslife/1366504-qa-rufus-wainwright-on-his-love-for-the-bard-and-setting-shakespeare-to-music), the Indian Express’s account of an all-female, nude staging of The Tempest by a New York theatre group: (http://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/art-and-culture/all-female-nude-shakespeare-play-staged-by-nyc-theatre-group-2813512/) and the Gibraltar Chronicle’s account of the Young Shakespeare Company’s performances in Gibraltar middle schools: (http://chronicle.gi/2016/05/young-shakespeare-company-in-school-performances/).

Emphasizing the importance of Shakespeare globally and not merely within the UK, on the same day universities too were active in contributing to the commemoration: KPBS (San Diego State University) offered an account of the ‘Shakespeare Show’ (which was partly organised by BBC America, cinema-based, and was the same as the show broadcast on the BBC on April 23rd): http://www.kpbs.org/events/2016/may/23/fathom-events-presents-shakespeare-show/?et=63819 whilst the University of Birmingham (UK) website included details of the translation of Macbeth from play to novel: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2016/05/From-Chernobyl-and-cholera-to-reworking-Shakespeare-Birmingham-scholars-take-to-the-stage-at-Hay.asp

In the following week, other coverage identified via Google Alerts included accounts of opportunities for young people to engage with Shakespeare, and on the 24 May alone, were as diverse as the Southland Times (a regional, New Zealand website) on a local school’s Shakespeare performance: www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/80218511/catlins-area-schoo-rocks-shakespeare as well as the Director (a UK-based business) website account of the Deutsche Bank/Playing Shakespeare cooperation, to bring Shakespeare to young people: www.director.co.uk/playing-shakespeare-celebrates-tenth-anniversary-18217-2/ as well as the Mixital website, which encouraged visitors to remix scenes from Shakespeare, and make memes: www.mixital.co.uk/channel/shake-it-up Given cuts in educational funding in the UK it is hardly surprising that free resources such as this are being advertised during the commemorative period.

On the 26 May, Google Alerts notified us of 2 new items on the British Library website (bl.uk), both relating to Shakespeare; one to London in his lifetime, and one to Shakespeare and madness. The following day, the BL blog added material on Shakespeare’s business acumen, specifically ‘lessons for business’ which could be learned from Shakespeare (http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/business/2016/05/be-as-business-savvy-as-shakespeare-7-lessons-for-business-from-the-bard.html).

The idea of the usefulness of Shakespeare in the C21st was not limited to this: other news which became available during the week included, on 27 May, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine website’s article on the use of Shakespeare to entertain WW1 troops (http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2016/shakespeare_hut.html) and, on the same day, the Los Angeles Times article on the use of Shakespeare to understand the presidential candidate Donald Trump: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-ca-cm-0529-shakespeare-trump-20160518-snap-htmlstory.html, whilst two days later, the News Guardian, a website for the north-east of England, reported on a local language school’s recording of Macbeth for the benefit of Chinese students considering a trip to the UK to learn English. Overall, even UK-based websites were keen to emphasize the universality of Shakespeare and, perhaps, of the UK in a difficult period economically and politically, and used the internet to share this self-representation, both of Shakespeare and the UK, with the wider world.


BritishWoman (‏@LorraChaplin) tweet on May, 10