The Ethnographic Museum, Belgrade - the pleace of national heritage
The Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade was founded in 1901, when the Ethnographic Department was separated from the National Museum to become an independent institution. The proposal to establish a museum that would study folk life and the conceptual and theoretical framework for such a museum were drafted by the historian Stojan Novaković, the Secretary of the Serbian Learned Society and subsequently a full member of the Serbian Royal Academy (presently the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts).
Various ethnographic objects, including some earthenware and metal vessels, jewellery, amulets, glass and textile items, weapons, tools, Easter eggs and other museum items were transferred to the Foundation Stevča Mihajlović – the house that Mihajlović bequeathed by his will “to the Serbian nation” for his “eternal memory with the purpose of converting it into a museum for the Serbian Kingdom”. Sima Trojanović, PhD, was appointed as the guardian (director) of the museum, whereas Nikola Zega was subsequently appointed as its first curator. The inauguration of the first permanent exhibition of the EthnographicMuseum was organized on September 20, 1904, on the occasion of the centennial of the First Serbian Uprising.
During the first years of its work, the activities of the Ethnographic Museum were focused on the purchase of museum items and the presentation of the Kingdom of Serbia abroad. Items to be included in museum collections were collected during field research throughout the then territory of Serbia and the neighbouring countries where the Serbs also lived.
In World War I, a large number of museum items were destroyed, as well as the documentation and the library. After the war, new field research campaigns were undertaken with the aim of filling the gaps in the collections. During that period, guest exhibitions organized abroad were less frequent. The museum library was re-established in 1920. Today, its holdings contain about 60,000 publications: 33,000 books and about 27,000 journals dealing with ethnology, anthropology and related scholarly disciplines. Between the two world wars, the New Inventory and the Alphabetical Catalogue of all museum objects were compiled, the Department of Musical Folklore and the Department of Illustration were established, while the museum objects were classified according to materials from which they were made.
During World War II, museum objects were packed and removed from the building in which the museum was housed at that time. After the war, the museum was moved into the building of the Belgrade Stock Exchange at No. 13 Studentski Trg (Square).
The museum collections currently contain about 200,000 items, 56,000 of which are ethnographic objects.
Since its founding until the present day, the museum has been dedicated to professional collecting and the study of museum objects and ethnogenetic processes, traditional material culture, social relations and family life, customs, beliefs and folklore. It has also been involved in the study of the features of Serbian culture, as well as those of other ethnic groups living within the region. In addition to collecting artefacts, since the 1960s, team research into the ethnographic areas of northeastern and western Serbia was introduced as a permanent activity of the museum. Research results are published in professional and academic journals and catalogues.
The Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade organizes temporary and permanent exhibitions. Eight permanent exhibitions and several hundred temporary exhibitions in the country and abroad have been organized so far. The eighth permanent exhibition, titled The Folk Culture of the Serbs in the 19th and 20th Centuries, was set up in 2001. Over the past twenty-two years, the International Festival of Ethnographic Film has been a regular programme organized by the museum. The museum also organizes workshops for children and adults, lectures, book presentations and concerts.