Serbian Learned Society (1864 - 1892)


The suspended Society of Serbian Letters (SSL) was restored on July 29, 1864 under the name Srbsko učeno društvo (Serbian Learned Society). All the members of the suspended Society could stay in their member categories, and the full members were requested to inform the authorized Minister within one month which department they wished to work in. Those who did not notify the Minister within the given time frame would be classified as honorary members.

The restoration was used to make several other changes, in addition to the change of name. The new Organization explicitly defined the Society as being under the supervision of the Minister of Education and Church Affairs, but the Minister was no longer its president. With the new regulations, the Society received a form of presidency under the name of Committee. It consisted of the president, appointed by the Prince at the Minister’s proposal, the secretary, who was chosen by the Society itself, and of four department presidents, who were appointed by the Minister from among three candidates proposed by each department. The list of candidates for full membership had to be sent to the Minister for approval, before the elective session. The member categories remained the same.

The basic task of the Society was "to engage in sciences and arts which concern the Serbs the most". The Society itself was permitted to "determine the manner and path in which it will accomplish its task".

The Society had four departments:

  • Department for Ethics, Language and Literary Sciences
  • Department for Natural and Mathematical Sciences
  • Department for Historical and Social Sciences
  • Department for the Arts.

The Organization regulated that a department could not have less than five or more than twenty members. For this reason, the Arts Department could not begin work until 1869, since it did not have enough members. The first President of the Society was Jovan Gavrilović. There were considerable changes in the composition of full members of the Society. Of the 66 full members of the Society of Serbian Letters at the time of its suspension, 31 members did not report to continue work. Of these 31 members who chose not to report, majority was the young liberals, but some of the original members, including Atanasije Nikolić, one of the founders of the SSL, also decided to abstain.

The work of the Society included collecting various historical data, old manuscripts and documents, study of monasteries and architectural monuments throughout Serbia. Efforts were made to collect geographical and ethnographic material on a broad basis through the application of the modern methodology. A proposal was made to make a map of Serbia and to regularly observe and record meteorological data. Bibliography was attended to more consistently than in the SSL. There was also an initiative to build government archives. Members of the Society published their results in Glasnik SUD (The Herald of the Serbian Learned Society). Articles and treatises mostly dealt with history, philology, geography, statistics, archaeology and medicine.

The assassination of Prince Mihailo in 1868 brought about significant changes in the country, which inevitably affected the work and structure of the Society. At the time of the Regency (1868-1872) once-exiled liberals obtained influential positions and their weight was quickly felt in the Society. In January 1869, at the Society's proposal, the Regency passed a new Organization, which considerably strengthened its autonomous position. Government influence was kept only in its appointing the Society president. In all other decisions concerning its organization and structure the Society had full autonomy.

The liberal group, which insisted on educational work as Society’s primary task, was no longer opposed by the Prince's autocratic regime, but by another group of Society members, headed by Stojan Novaković. This group strongly believed that the Society should dedicate its resources exclusively to advancing science, while responsibility for education and popularizations should be left to other institutions. Conflicts within the Society were interwoven with party fights in Serbia at the time, since its members held important positions in the government apparatus and in leading political movements. The liberals' opponents in the SLS were also their opponents in parliamentary life. These were neoconservatives by the name of "progressives". In search of a compromise, most prominent members from both groups through patient work and long discussions arrived at a plan for Amendments and Supplements to the Serbian Learned Society's Organization, which were adopted by the necessary majority in June 1877.

The Society's tasks were now formulated differently: "The Serbian Learned Society cultivates and advances science and the arts through independent research in nature studies, social sciences, linguistics, history and the arts if they concern the Serbs and the Slavs, and physical sciences, philosophy and psychology generally". In addition to that main task, it was also provided that "The Society can, through special committees, foster and work on spreading science and literature to broader circles, but for that purpose can only use funds specially acquired or determined thereof". Amendments and Supplements included certain changes to the Society's organization.

The departments were transformed into committees:

  • The Committee for Philosophical and Philological Sciences
  • The Committee on Natural Sciences and Mathematics
  • The Committee for Social and Historical Sciences
  • The Committee for the Arts
  • The Committee for Propagating Science and Literature among the People.

The last committee was established as the institutional basis for educational activity, and was better known for its colloquial name "the fifth committee". This Committee would publish its texts partly in Glasnik, along with other discussions and part would be printed in Biblioteka za narod (Library for the People), especially established for that purpose. Difficulties arose around acquiring funds for "the fifth committee's" work, since this committee, unlike all of the other committees, had no access to the Society's regular funds, and the Minister of Education, who, at the time, happened to be Stojan Novaković was not sympathetic to their cause.

On May 13, 1886, the Serbian Learned Society came into conflict with the Ministry of Education once again (a direct result of the political tension between liberals and progressives and comprised of many trivial matters ending in unnecessary lawsuits). This resulted in a temporary suspension (June 9, 1886 - June 25, 1887) of the SLD.

From 1886 until 1892, significantly diminished in membership, the Society coexisted with the newly founded Serbian Royal Academy. This period was dominated by constant dispute between two institutions over the privileges and property, until they finally merged in 1892. By the terms of the agreement, SLS was allowed to choose 8 of its members to become full members of the Serbian Royal Academy, while the rest of the members of the SLS were integrated as honorary members of the Academy.

All the dates in this text are given according to the existing official calendar of the time, which was, up until July 14, 1919, the Julian calendar and from that date onwards the Gregorian calendar.

List of abbreviations:

SSL – Society of Serbian Letters
SLS – Serbian Learned Society
SRA – Serbian Royal Academy
DSS – Društvo srpske slovesnosti (Society of Serbian Letters)
SUD – Srpsko učeno društvo (Serbian Learned Society)
SKA – Srpska kraljevska akademija (Serbian Royal Academy)