A Tradition of Trivia at the Redwood Library

Wed, 05/30/2018 - 10:39am -- baglio

The Redwood Library will be hosting it's first-ever Trivia Night and this upcoming event has inspired our librarians to take a look at the history of trivia the books in our collection that have contributed to the encyclopedic knowledge of our members.

The word trivia itself is somewhat ambiguous in its translation. To begin with, trivia is the plural word for trivium, which in Latin, generally means the convergence of three roads. This, loosely translated, would often refer in medieval education to the learning of rhetoric, grammar and language. With that said, the Cambridge Dictionary today refers to trivia as “unimportant or little-known details or information”.  The concept of trivia being utilized for entertainment is a rather recent development. In 1902, a book by Logan Pearsall Smith, entitled Trivialities: Bits of Information of Little Consequence was published. While it didn’t become popular until 1918, the book was full of essays, facts and tidbits of information.  Sequels were spawned after its success.

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In the 1950’s, Trivia reached an early pinnacle of value when it was the main topic for several hit game shows on television. Programs such as Twenty One, and the $64,000 Question were popular game shows that utilized trivia for its focus. Later in the 1960’s, other trivia shows, like Jeopardy! ,continued using trivia as a resource for gaming. In the 1970’s a novel concept known as “Pub Trivia” became popular when it was developed by the duo of Sharon Burns and Tom Porter as an attempt to increase the appeal of pubs around the United Kingdom. The idea took off, and has been a concept used in many drinking establishments and other gathering places today.

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Trivia can be connected to the history of the Redwood Library. The instigation for creating the library was to develop a place to provide knowledge for the people of Newport, with “nothing in view but the good of mankind”. When the committee to develop the collection of titles under Abraham Redwood convened, they meticulously chose titles that would be most beneficial to their patrons. The resulting 751 titles covered a very broad spectrum of information, providing texts on religion, the classics, travel, military manuals, and several books to understand and master practical tasks, such as husbandry, beekeeping and brewing. Some of the most thorough texts in the origianl collection are the books that focus on knowledge and a deep understanding of different topics.  



Cyclopaedia (whose full titles continues with quite a mouthful: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences; : Containing an Explication of the Terms, and an Account of the Things Signified Thereby, in the Several Arts, both Liberal and Mechanical; and the Several Sciences, Human and Divine: the Figures, Kinds, Properties, Productions, Preparations, and Uses of Things Natural and Artificial: the Rise, Progress, and State of Things Ecclesiastical, Civil, Military, and Commercial: with the Several Systems, Sects, Opinions, &c. Among Philosophers, Divines, Mathematicians, Physicians, Antiquaries, Critics, &c. The Whole Intended as a Course of Ancient and Modern Learning, Extracted From the Best Authors, Dictionaries, Journals, Memoirs, Transactions, Ephemerides, &c. in Several Languages.) is a comprehensive encyclopedia that was published between 1741-1743 in London. Our own copy contains a handwritten note stating "Christopher Champlin Bought of Isaac Elizer. January AD 1770 2 vol cash £120 old Tenor".  This is the only text in the original collection that uses the word encyclopedia (or at least a variation thereof) in its title. Contained opposite the title page, is an amazing print that imagines the knowledge contained within an encyclopedia.



Another title of thorough information, comes from the Royal Society in London, who were pushing the boundaries of Science in their studies and examinations. The History of the Royal Society of London, : for the Improving of Natural Knowledge is a keen title for those who may have been interested in the chartered group and its early experiments and studies. Our copy, dating to 1734 is a fourth edition. The first edition, written by Thomas Sprat, was first published in 1667, a mere seven years after the Society was founded.  



The Bibliotheca Technologica: : or, A Philological Library of Literary Arts and Sciences  in itself is its own library contained within one book, Within this book, topics range from Christianity to Anatomy, Judaism to Pharmacy, Poetry to Botany. Our copy, printed in 1747, is a third edition.



Lastly, we have an intriguing title in the original collection titled, A Demonstration of the Existence, Wisdom and Omnipotence of God,: Drawn From the Knowledge of Nature, Particularly of Man, and Fitted to the Meanest Capacity.  Our copy, printed in, 1713 is a unique discourse on understanding God and religion through the development of nature and man. 



These books shown, along with the many other titles in the original collection, show an interest in developing knowledge in all areas, as well as a commitment to providing that knowledge to the membership of the Redwood Library, which is a commitment that still stands today. Join us next Wednesday, June 6, 2018 from 6-8 pm for a night of trivia at the Redwood Library! Follow this link for more information and to register: Pub Trivia Challange at the Redwood Library & Athenaeum.