The initiative for foundation of an institution with the responsibility of collecting and preserving archival material created by the state authorities, organizations and persons appeared in public in 1847. A few decades later the State Archives of the Kingdom of Serbia, later known as the Archives of Serbia, was founded by the Law on the State Archives adopted on December 2nd 1898, and started to perform its duties in 1900.
During its existence, the official name of the Archives changed many times: State Archives of the Kingdom of Serbia 1900 to 1918; State Archives since 1918 to 1945; State Archives of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia 1945 to 1948; State Archives of the People’s Republic of Serbia 1948 to 1969; Archives of Serbia since 1969 to nowadays.
The first acquisition of the archival material into the newly founded institution began immediately, in 1900. According to the stipulations of the Law on the State Archives it was determined that the archival material of the Prince’s Chancery, Ministry of the Foreign Affairs, High People’s Court and former state institutions were first to be transferred into the Archives Repository. The first classification of the archival material within archival fonds was made in 1907.
The first decades in the existence of the Archives were defined by many defects. The Law on the State Archives didn’t precise the way and the type of communications of Archives with other state institutions which disabled the Archives to inspect the state of the archival and documentary material in the creating institutions in the Kingdom of Serbia and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes later Yugoslavia. This prevented the systematization in preservation of the existing registry offices and archives. The inadequate number of expert staff – one state archivist, one secretary and two clerks – additionally hindered collecting information on the archival material in the state institutions. Shortage of the repository areas in the buildings rented for this purpose added to the grave situation.
When the Kingdom of Serbia expanded its territories in 1912 and 1913, the Archives of Serbia faced another serious task – to get insight into the state of the archival material created in those territories added to Serbia in order to take measures for its preservation and protection.
The first two years during the First World War were especially difficult for the Archives activities. In order to preserve the most valuable state archives, part of it was moved from Belgrade to Nish and Krusevac, the rest was left on-site. When the Serbian Army retreated, it took the archives with it, but a part of it was destroyed, part of it was lost, and the majority of the archives were left in the railway wagons in the station in Krusevac. The greatest merit for preserving the archives was given to Marko T. Leko, PhD, representative of the president of the Red Cross of Serbia, Zivan Zivanovic, state advisor and Ljubomir Kovacevic, member of the Royal Academy of Serbia. The merit went also to a number of individuals who, by extraordinary efforts they made, succeeded to save some smaller quantities of archives which was being preserved in the Archives of Serbia until 1914.
When the First World Was ended the immediate actions were undertaken: first, to locate the displaced archives and to collect information on the destroyed archives and second, to organize the work of all archival institutions in the territory of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The Archives of Serbia, being a central archival institution, proceeded to perform this function, and along with other central archival institutions in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Sarajevo, was striving to harmonize the archival services and to bring a new law on archives into effect. But, the new law was not adopted until 1941.
Loss of the archival material and the construction of the new building specially designed for the needs of the Archives of Serbia (built in 1928 on the site of the Old Racetrack in the Vladimirova Street, today Karnegieva No.2, according to the project designed by the Russian architect Nicolay Krasnov), enabled the Archives to take over the archival material from some archives and registry offices from the territories of the newly founded state and from the territories occupied by the Army of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes at that time. The Ministry of Religion in 1921 handed over to the Archives of Serbia the Decani Charter issued by the king Stefan Uros III of Decani in 1330, which is the oldest document ever preserved in the Archives of Serbia. With the completion of the new archival building, the Archives finally got enough repository space which enabled it to collect the archives and to begin with its arrangement.
The period of 1941 to 1945 was another difficult period in the functioning of the Archives. During this period the German Army took over the building twice for their needs. The archival material had to be moved from the Archives to the Technical Faculty and the University Library. The most significant documents were put into the National Bank vault. The most serious problem for the Archives was the deliberate confiscation of the documents by the Library and Archives Department of the General Headquarters of the Military Commander of Belgrade. Nevertheless, the Archives staff made enormous effort to preserve the archival material treasured in the Archives of Serbia and to collect documents created by other Yugoslav institutions.
After the completion of the Second World War, the Archives of Serbia became the Central institution in the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia and held that function until January 1st 1948, when the archival material was divided according to the principle of provenance to the archives of the FPR of Yugoslavia and the Archives of Serbia. In 1948 and 1949 Archives expanded its responsibilities, opened its first archival exhibition, published the first edition of the archival documents and organized the first archival course.
The General Law on state archives was adopted in 1950 and had its effect throughout the territory of Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. In January 1951 the Law on state archives of the People’s Republic of Serbia was adopted, which established the legal framework for the activities of the Archives of Serbia, as the central institution, and the archival institutions within the archival network in Serbia. The same year the first professional review Archivist was published and the archival course for archivists and archival technicians was being organized on the regular basis.
During the sixties of the last century, the Archives of Serbia was expanded by attaching Cooperative Archives and the archival department of the Institute for the History of Workers’ Movement in Serbia. The inadequacy of the repository capacity became evident once again due to the enormous number of archival fonds and collections of documents already preserved in the Archives and the acquisition of the great number of documents created after 1945. To solve the problem, the Archives were given new premises in Zeleznik (Bulevar mladih No. 5 Street) in 1970. Two physically located repositories defined the organization and the activities of this Institution. It was then when the Institution was organized into the following departments: Arrangement of the archives, Archives of the Older Period and the Archives of the Newer Period.
Nowadays, the Archives of Serbia is a home institution within the archival network of the Republic of Serbia. Its responsibility is to safeguard the archival material in its repositories and to take care of the functioning and activity of all other archives in Serbia.
Since 2007 the head of the Archives of Serbia is Dr Miroslav Perišić.