The immediate stimulus for this history was that the Torrey Botanical Society was increasingly denied access to the use of the Torrey Room on the third floor of the Watson Building. Instead, they had to meet in ad-hoc arrangements in the Herbarium. This is not an area that would impress any visitors or prospective new members of the importance of the Society to the outer world in general and the NYBG in particular.
This current history goes way beyond the immediate stimulus for the history. And an obvious question has to asked: "Is the TBS doing a good enough job that it would, as a matter of course, command respect?" In this history we will see that larger forces have worked to create the present difficulties for the TBS and NYBG. The budget cuts for non-profit institutions has certainly negatively affected the NYBG, but the increasing specialization in botany has created serious organizational problems of motivation for TBS.
The Torrey Botanical Society is the oldest continuous botanical society in the Western Hemisphere. But there are no overall histories written on the society. This lack of a history of the organization has and will help create myriads of problems for the society and its members. Without a history, the members do not realize that it is their society that actually founded the NYBG. Without a history, the members do not realize that Raymond H. Torrey was a president of their club and perhaps the most active field chairman the society ever had. This lack of knowledge makes it impossible to recognize a common interest link with the Torrey Hiking Society. Without a knowledge of their own history, the members cannot adequately explain what the Torrey Botanical Society is and what it has done.
An organization without a written history is somewhat like a person with amnesia. If you don't know your personal history, how can you know who you were, who you are now, or what kind of person you will be or want to be in the future.
A NOTE ON SOCIOLOGY
This report uses the framework of the famous German sociologist Tonnies who worked on the concept of gemeinschaft-gessellschaft. This is a well-known description of the changes brought about in switching from a small town life based on agriculture to a complicated urban system based on industrialism/capitalism. It describes how in small communities everyone knows everyone else and there are often common goals and values and ideas. (Some would say that the atmosphere is wonderful, while others say it is too stultifying.)
The story of the Torrey Botanical Society is the rather typical one of urbanized civilizations and their groups -- of the change from gemeinschaft to gesellschaft -- from common goals to fragmented goals, from unity of purpose to total freedom where most everyone does their own botanical thing.
The switch to a complex organization as that involved in large scale cities switches human relationships from common goals and values to much more fragmented values and ideas. This does not imply that people in the gemeinschaft are better than those in the gesellschaft. The social structure has changed and people have to adjust accordingly. People in different life circumstances have different goals. There should be no implication that one group of people is morally superior to the other. It is the structure that determines the behavior of people (obviously with some feedback from the people themselves). And if the results of a certain social structure are perceived as unfortunate, the people should not be asked to change, but rather changes in the social structure should be made. For instance, if our universities primarily measure their worth in terms of getting grants and creating publications, our professors will have to measure their progress in these very same terms. And if the end result is that there is a lot of servicing of those interests backed by foundations with the money to fund the grants (such as cancer research institutes) and little interest in some more generally worrisome problems (such as the destruction of local flora by all the combine forces summarized in the term, the green-house effect), of course, the former will win out.
This system of analysis will be the underlying one in the description of the TBC/TBS. The TBC started out as a very unified group of friends in the field of botany. They had common goals and common values: to study the local flora.
This situation of unity naturally changed in complexity with the growth of the New York Metropolitan Region in terms of urbanization, population, etc. As always the complexity of the situation is mirrored in the TBC/TBS organization which is not primarily a group of close friends, but rather people with common professional interests (along with a few "amateurs" just interested in botany for its own sake). There are now no common goals except the very loose and secondary ones of promoting interest in botany in some general ways.
A way out of this situation will be suggested.