The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Continuing the celebration: Preserving birthday-related digital ephemera

Shakespeare Statue - Folger Cataloging
Taking a break from birthday festivities in the Folger Cataloging Office.

It’s official: the Bard doesn’t look a day over 425.

450 years have now passed since William Shakespeare’s birth and it’s clear he is just as relevant and as loved as ever before. April 23, 2014 was marked with celebrations, events, and jovial birthday wishes from modern-day readers, scholars, and enthusiasts worldwide.

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and birthday celebrations during his time were likely to be much different than the festivities of today; many of which are now documented or take place online through web articles, social media conversations, and digital interaction.

While the day may have come and gone, online celebrations for Shakespeare’s 450th birthday are still alive and well. Thanks to web archiving services and open-source digital preservation tools,  we are now able to capture, preserve, and analyze some of the exciting pieces of digital ephemera created in response to this momentous occasion.

#Shax450 Tweet Archive and Visualization 

#Shax450 Tweet Visualization
Shakespeare’s 21st Century “Globe” – A visualization of #Shax450 Tweets in honor of Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday.

Using Martin Hawksey’s TAGSExplorer and Google Spreadsheets, we’ve created the #Shax450 Tweet Archive, an interactive archive and visualization of tweets that have recently used the hashtag #Shax450 to celebrate William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.

Using TAGS (Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet) technology, Hawksey’s TAGSExplorer tool visualizes Twitter conversations, connections, and user activity which are all related to a specific hashtag. This is achieved by hooking up to Twitter’s API and transferring relevant data to a Google Spreadsheet for organization and analysis.

#Shax450 Tweet Archive
#Shax450 tweets archived in a Google Spreadsheet using TAGSExplorer.

Hashtags are used on social media sites to link various content of a similar nature together by keyword. A hashtag is a word or a phrase prefaced with a #, generally referred to as a “pound sign” or a “hash.” A hashtag does not support spaces or punctuation marks. You might find that a hashtag is a truncated version of a word or phrase; this is often the side effect of character-count limitations placed by social media services such as Twitter’s 140 characters per Tweet. #HappyBirthdayShakespeare, #ShakespearesBirthday, and #Shakespeare450th are all examples of popular hashtags used on Twitter recently to discuss and celebrate the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.

The #Shax450 Tweet Archive has gathered all Twitter activity marked #Shax450 from the week before the birthday, April 16, on. #Shax450 is the hashtag that @FolgerLibrary,  @FolgerResearch,  @FolgerEd, and friends have been using to talk about the birthday, related events, and the Folger Gala on Twitter. This specific hashtag is largely Folger-centric and statistics related to the tag paint an interesting picture of social media interactions surrounding the birthday in recent days. The TAGSExplorer program hooks up to Twitter’s API and pulls activity related to the hashtag into a spreadsheet, runs analytics on the data, and generates a visualization of conversations and actions. Below, you’ll find a visual representation of the @FolgerLibrary account interactions related to the #Shax450 tag and birthday conversations as it looked on the morning of April 25th:

@FolgerLibrary #Shax450 Twitter interactions.
@FolgerLibrary #Shax450 Twitter interactions.

The grey circles are node representations of Twitter users who have used the #Shax450 hashtag. The larger the text associated with a node, the more @replies and @mentions the user has acquired. Additionally, solid lines denote direct @replies, while dotted lines represent @mentions. (An @reply is when a Twitter user directly replies to the Tweet of another user; an @mention is when one Twitter user mentions another by handle, without directly replying to a Tweet).

The text of the Tweets is saved in the archive, along with relevant available metadata such as the day and time the Tweet was created, whether it was a stand-alone instance or if it generated interaction and conversation, and more. The Archive is updated for new information on a continual basis. There was an obvious spike in activity between April 23rd and 24th, and the Tweets are still flowing in, in the aftermath of the Gala and the birthday week! I invite you to check out the archive, interact with it, and have fun.

Additionally, this archive is the companion to a brand new Folger Web Archive collection:

William Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday: Celebrations and Commentary

WS 450th Birthday: Celebrations and Commentary

This brand-new, event-based collection seeks to document various web records of celebrations, festivities, events, commentary, and additional ephemera related to William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. There are currently 16 seed URLs in the collection, including the Shakespeare Week website in the UK, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s 450th Anniversary Celebrations calendar, and the official description for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s own Shakespeare’s Birthday Open Housewhich took place on Sunday, April 6, 2014. The full contents of the collection can be found here.

These seed URLs have got the collection up and running, but as we all know, there are many more items out there on the web of potential relevance to this collection. As the birthday week is now complete and more and more web items are likely to be created in the immediate future, we have created a public website nomination form to crowd-source URL suggestions for inclusion from you, our audience!

Seed Nomination Form

If you have seen anything of relevance on the web to the big 450 and think it might benefit from being included in the Celebrations and Commentary collection, feel free to use the form to send it our way. We will be carefully reviewing all submissions and adding URLs to the collection which are relevant to the collection scope and accessible to our web archiving service.

Finally, if you have any comments, suggestions, or questions related to Folger web archive activities: I invite you to reach out to the newly created Folger Web Archive Administrator contact email: To archive the web is to preserve an interactive resource; therefore, the act of web archiving should be an interactive process. We look forward to hearing your thoughts as you get to know our new collections.


  • In the interest of accuracy, shouldn’t you be discussing William Shakespeare’s *presumed* birthday? We don’t know when he was born, only when he was baptized an indeterminate few days later. So 23 April — St George’s Day — has always seemed like a fitting day on which he *should have* been born, but we really don’t know. Please don’t let this long-standing and crowd-pleasing conjecture harden into fact in your own website.

    • Yes, April 23rd is Shakespeare’s presumed birthday (and his deathday), but as you note, it is the date on which we, and the rest of the Shakespeare world, have long celebrated his birthday. If this was a post looking at his biography, more attention to the specifics of the date would have been appropriate, but as an examination of the far-flung digital celebrations marking the 450th anniversary of his birth, I think we’re okay in referring to the 23rd as his birthday.

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