This collection consists of records, mostly dated 1816-1830, concerning the founding and operation of the Columbian Institute by Edward Cutbush, Thomas Law, and others.
Records document efforts to raise money for a building, publishing projects, and a botanical garden; and to collect natural history specimens. Also included are minutes of
meetings and committee reports; treasurer's records; and correspondence of French naturalist Francois de Laporte, Count Castelneau de Laporte.
Researchers should also consult the Peter Force Collection in the Library of Congress, which contains various minutes, papers, and correspondence of the Institute.
The Columbian Institute (1816-1838) was first organized as the Metropolitan Society, with the professed purpose of reducing the United States' dependence on a purely
European cultural heritage. Its principal goal was utilitarian; the society concentrated on encouraging, by correspondence, exchanges, and a program of publication, the diffusion
of information about agriculture, manufacturing, and natural resources. Though initially conceived as a local body, the Society soon decided to expand its operations, and
so, still in 1816, changed its name to the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, under which name it was incorporated by Congress in 1818.
The Institute led a desultory existence. Its first president, Edward Cutbush, a naval surgeon, was energetic; but the Institute was never able to establish itself on a
sound footing. Much of its membership seems to have been only casually interested in the Institute's work. Perhaps for this reason, and certainly because Congress gave no
aid, there was always a dearth of money. Nor did an 1818 reorganization which added the fields of the liberal arts to its interests prove useful. In 1820 the Institute obtained
a plot of land on the Mall and laid out a small botanical garden, virtually its only concrete accomplishment. A few natural history specimens and a small library were collected.
The Institute's charter expired in 1838 and, in 1841, it was absorbed by the National Institute.