The quiet work of scientific societies affects the man in the street in ways of which he seldom dreams. Seeing a building in uptown New York on which are inscribed the words The American Geographical Society, the passer-by is not likely to wonder what goes on within its walls. Yet he would suffer if some evil demon were to erase from the mind of man all that the American Geographical Society has added to its storehouse.
This, I hope, may become clear, should the reader agree that the Society has contributed honorably, substantially, and distinctively to the social and intellectual life of our country and to the advancement of useful knowledge and of lore that brings delight. By showing what the Society has been and done, and by illustrating where some of its interests have lain, the following pages may also shed light on two larger themes: the history of modern geography, and the evolution and functioning of learned institutions.
The central highway of this record is a chronicle of the Society's institutional development-of its guiding policies, constitution, governing board, membership, staff, finances, collections, publications, awards. Every now and then, however, we shall turn off the main road into the diversified fields of geography and exploration across which it leads, and, to gain better views, we shall wander backward or forward in time from the points at which we leave the highway. As far as the year 1915, where the road makes a sharp turn, these excursions will be confined to sections within chapters. Thereafter, the fields spread out more widely, and the excursions will require separate chapters.
As on several other occasions, the Society has recently revised its program to accord with the spirit and needs of the times. In this it has not overlooked G. K. Chesterton's caution, that "to be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness." Recognizing that only in the light of history can we begin to comprehend what Chesterton called "the whole round of truth," the Society has seen value in retracing the long road that it has traversed since 1851 and in revisiting once more the fascinating domains of thought and action through which the road has brought it to the gateways of a second century.
Archer Milton Huntington made this book possible. For the opportunity of writing it, for the happiness that the writing has brought me, and, above all, for his confidence, I am grateful in a measure that I find impossible adequately to put into words.
Isaiah Bowman took a deep and sympathetic interest in the plans for this . . .