Back to the Future: An Athenaeum for the Digital Age

Reinvention takes on special significance when one’s institution issues of Enlightenment wisdom. Time and again strategies enacted today to emphasize the value of intellectual pursuit, to foster community engagement, or to abet strategic partnerships are validated in the historical record going back centuries. Even the conference directive of “useful knowledge” figures almost verbatim in the 1747 Redwood charter “for the propagation of…knowledge and useful learning.” The overarching lesson is therefore less reinvention than adaptation.

For example, the inception of the Redwood—born of true community engagement in the form of the pooled resources of 46 founders—now provides the basis of the Redwood’s current shares program, in which the proceeds of the sale of limited unassigned historic ‘shares’ in the Redwood, will help ensure its financial viability. Meanwhile, the elastic term of athenaeum offers wide latitude regarding the Library’s purview-- just as it did in 1833, when the term was added to the Library’s name to reflect its growth as an educational and cultural institution. Nearly 200 years in advance of current museum trends, the term authorizes the interdisciplinarity of the Redwood’s programming, which currently encompasses an unmatched string of partnerships with, among others, NewportFilm, the Tennis Hall of Fame, the Newport Architectural Forum, the Audrain Automobile Museum, and the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Marker Project.


Benedict Leca Ph.D., Executive Director Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, RI

[email protected]

Presentation (PDF):