A Step Toward Scientific Self-Identity in the United States: The Failure of the National Institute, 1844

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Discusses the foundation of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science in 1840 by Joel Poinsett and Francis Markoe, Jr., Poinsett's role in preserving the collections of the United States Exploring Expedition, and attempts to secure the Smithson bequest to establish a national museum as part of the National Institute. Argues that the National Institute faded in contrast to the emerging scientific community, embodied in the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists (later the American Association for the Advancement of Science), and failed because its members were amateurs, rather than practicing scientists, who attempted to gain political control of scientific research and collections.


  • Wilkes, Charles 1798-1877
  • Markoe, Francis 1801-1871
  • Poinsett, Joel Roberts 1779-1851
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Association of American Geologists and Naturalists
  • National Institute
  • National Institution for the Promotion of Science
  • United States Exploring Expedition (USEE)
  • United States National Museum


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography

Contained within

Isis Vol. 62, Part 3, No. 213 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu




  • Smithson Bequest
  • American science
  • SI, Early History
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • National Collections

Physical description

pp. 339-362

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