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 EthnographicMuseum 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.
1844 Srbsko Narodni Muzeum (Serbian National Museum; presently the National Museum) was established and an ethnographic collection was formed.
1867 The Kingdom of Serbia took part at the Ethnographic Exhibition and the Pan-Slavic Congress in Moscow.
1872 (August 22) Stojan Novaković, the Secretary of the Serbian Learned Society, presented A Proposal and a Draft Plan for the Serbian Historical-Ethnographic Museum.
1898 (October 9) Mihailo Valtrović, the director of the National Museum, submitted to the Ministry of Education and Religion a request to separate the ethnological collection from the National Museum and to house it in the building bequeathed by Stevča Mihajlović.
1898 (October 27) The Ministry of Education and Religion adopted the proposal of Mihailo Valtrović to establish the EthnographicMuseum.
1901 (February) Sima Trojanović, PhD, was appointed as the director of the Ethnographic Museum; the museum was housed in the Foundation of Stevča Mihajlović, located at the corner of Kneza Miloša (No. 15) and Ilije Birčanina streets.
1901 (June) Nikola Zega was appointed as the first curator of the museum.
1902 The museum took part at the First International Clothing Exhibition, held in St Petersburg.
1904 (September 20) On the occasion of the centennial of the First Serbian Uprising, King Petar I Karađorđević inaugurated the first permanent exhibition.
1905 The museum took part at the 1905 Liège International Exposition.
1906 The museum took part at the 1906 Bucharest Jubilee Exhibition.
1906 The museum took part at Exposition Internationale de la presse
1907 The museum took part at the Balkan States Exhibition in London.
1910 The exhibition The Serbian Woman was presented in Prague.
1911 The museum took part at the Turin International Exhibition in honour of the Jubilee of the Italian Unity.
1919 The second permanent exhibition was inaugurated.
1922 A new inventory system was introduced: along with the General Inventory and the card file catalogue, inventories classified according to types of materials were also compiled.
1926 On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the museum, the professional academic journal Glasnik Etnografskog muzeja (Bulletin of the Ethnographic Museum) was established.
1927 The Department of Musical Folklore was established.
1928 The museum took part at the 1928 Exposition Internationale in Paris.
1929 The museum took part at the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition.
1929 The museum took part at the 1929 Exposition Internationale in Geneva.
1930 The museum began to publish monographs.
1932 The Phonographic Department was established within the Department of Illustration.
1939 (September 25) The Department of Folk Dance was established within the Department of Illustration.
1939 The Archive of Folk Songs was included in the Department of Illustration.
1941 (in the eve of the war) Museum objects were packed in cases and moved into three buildings at the corner of Njegoševa and Kneginje Zorke streets.
1945 (during the year) The museum was moved into the U-shaped building (Maršalat) within the former Royal Court.
1946 (early in the year) A new plan of activities was adopted; six departments including twenty-one sub-departments were established; the professional staff was tripled.
1946 (May 1) The third permanent exhibition was inaugurated; it presented folk life in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century in the territory of Yugoslavia.
1948 The exhibition The Folk Art of Yugoslavia was opened; through this exhibition, the museum presented its collections in Yugoslavia and abroad (Germany, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Norway).
1951 (August 1) The Ethnographic museum was moved into the building at No. 13 Studentski Trg.
1951 (November 29) On the occasion of the museum’s 50th anniversary, the fourth permanent exhibition titled The Traditional Culture of Serbia was inaugurated.
1951 Zbornik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu 1901–1951 (Sammlung des Ethnographischen Museums in Belgrad 1901–1951) was published on the occasion of the museum’s 50th anniversary.
1960 The education and Pedagogical Department was established.
1961 The fifth permanent exhibition titled The Folk Art of Yugoslavia was inaugurated.
1967 The Memorial Ethnographic Collection of Hristifor Crnilović became a part of the Ethnographic Museum as a separate collection; it is kept at Manak’s House.
1976 On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the museum, the sixth permanent exhibition titled The Traditional Folk Dress of Yugoslavia .
1980 On the occasion of the 21st Session of the UNESCO General Conference, held in Belgrade, the exhibition titled The Folk Art of Yugoslavia was opened.
1981 Manak’s House was put under the auspices of the Ethnographic Museum.
1983 The history of the museum was presented at the exhibition Photographs of Nikola Zega (authored by Ljiljana Gavrilović) at Manak’s House.
1984 The building that formerly housed the Belgrade Stock Exchange was adapted to be used by the museum.
1984 The seventh permanent exhibition titled The Folk Culture of the Serbs in the Second Half of the 19th and the 20th Century in the Territory of the Socialist Republic of Serbia was inaugurated.
1984 The history of the museum was presented at the exhibition titled Ethnographic Museum 1901–1984 (authored by Ljiljana Ćertić); it was accompanied by a catalogue (authors of the texts: Aleksandar Deroko, Gvozden Jovanić and Ljiljana Ćertić).
1991 The museum received the collection of Stanoje Bojović, which was bequeathed by his will; the collection contained 17,381 photo negatives and 2,500 photos.
1992 The Festival of Ethnological and Video Film was established.
1993 Seka Miščević Mijatović gifted to the museum a collection of textile items, pottery and wooden objects.
1994 The festival of ethnological film became an international festival.
1995 The history of the museum was presented at the exhibition titled Serbia at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris (authored by Vesna Dušković); the exhibition featured the materials exhibited in Paris in 1900 which were acquisitioned for the museum.
1997 The history of the museum was presented at the exhibition titled The Album of Petar Ž. Petrović (authored by Vesna Bižić Omčikus).
2001 On the occasion of the museum’s centennial, the eighth permanent exhibition titled The Folk Culture of the Serbs in the 19th and 20th Centuries was inaugurated.
2001 On the occasion of the centennial of the museum, Zbornik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu: 1901–2001 (Miscellany of the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade: 1901–2001; edited by Jasna Bjeladinović Jergić) was published.
2001 The history of the museum was presented at the exhibition titled Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade 1901–2001 (authored by Vesna Dušković), organized on the occasion of the centennial of the museum.
2002 The history of the museum was presented at the exhibition titled At the Beginning (authored by Vesna Bižić Omčikus) and the book Na početku: dr Sima Trojanović – istraživač, naučnik i prvi čuvar Etnografskog muzeja (At the Beginning: Dr. Sima Trojanović – Explorer, Scolar and the First Guardian of the Ethnographic Museum; authors of the texts: Vesna Bižić Omčikus; Nikola F. Pavković, PhD; Dušan Bandić, PhD; Voislav Vasić, PhD, and Svetlana Mitrović) was published.
2005 (December) – 2006 (March) The history of the museum was presented at the exhibition titled Autumn/Winter 1867 Collection: the Serbian Collection Presented at the Russian Museum of Ethnography in St Petersburg (authored by Vilma Niškanović, Olga Karpova, Vesna Bižić Omčikus, Natalia Prokopeva).
2011 (September) The Annual Meeting of the ICOM Costume Committee was held at the Ethnographic Museum; the project was managed by Mirjana Menković, MA.
2012 The Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage was established at the Ethnographic Museum.