The Serbian Academy of Sciences was founded on 1 November 1886 as the Serbian Royal Academy. However this was established following the suspension of an earlier Society and we should go back to the Society of Serbian Letters founded in 1842 to understand the events which led to the foundation of the Academy.
In 1830 the Ottoman government granted Serbia full autonomy but internal dissension followed. Milos Obrenovic ruled the country but there was great internal opposition. He was forced to abdicate in 1839 but gangs of bandits and lawlessness continued to create widespread problems. It was in these difficult circumstances that Jovan Sterija Popovic and Atanasije Nikolic began in September 1841 to work towards founding the Society of Serbian Letters which formally existed from 31 May 1842. The Society aimed to expand science in the Serbian language and to adopt a 35 letter alphabet for the language.
In 1842 the national assembly elected Alexander as ruler. The problems which Serbia was suffering forced the work of the Society to be temporarily stopped in August 1842. In 1844 a series of laws were introduced concerning the administration and the education system in Serbia and the Society was able to recommence its work in August 1844. Alexander was deposed in 1859 and Milos Obrenovic was brought back but he died in 1860 and was succeeded by his son Mihailo Obrenovic. In 1863 the Society of Serbian Letters wanted to make Garibaldi a member and the resulting dispute between the Society and the Minister of Education led to Mihailo Obrenovic suspending it on 27 January 1864. On 29 July, six months later, the Serbian Learned Society was established to replace the Society of Serbian Letters. Its remit was to:-
... to be interested in science and arts which concern the Serbs most.
This Society had four Departments of which one was the Department for Natural and Mathematical Sciences. Jovan Gavrilovic was appointed as the first President of the new Society which largely consisted of the members of the former Society of Serbian Letters:-
From 1877 on, the Society changed its programme with the aim of becoming engaged in independent scientific work and of popularising science and literature through special Committees.
The Serbian Learned Society, like the previous Society, became involved in a dispute with the Minister of Education and was suspended on 13 May 1886. The Serbian Royal Academy was created by a law passed on 1 November 1886 and the Academy was given the library, collections, and property of the Serbian Learned Society. King Milan Obrenovic became the Academy's protector and he made the first appointments of members. There followed an argument during which the Serbian Learned Society was re-established on 25 June 1887 and for a while the Academy and the Society worked against each other and a lawsuit was initiated to recover the Society's property from the Academy. The Minister of Education saw that the only solution was to merge the two, which he did in 1892.
The first meeting of the Academy had been held on 22 February 1887. In fact the Academy was composed of four separate Academies: the Academy of Natural Sciences; the Academy of Philosophical Sciences; the Academy of Social Sciences; and the Academy of Arts.
The situation in the Balkans at the end of World War II was extremely difficult. As well as the consequences of years of fighting, there was a difficult period during which the Soviets sought to establish control while Serbia, now part of Yugoslavia, was ruled by Tito who tried to build a Bulkan Federation. On 30 June 1947, during this difficult period, the structure of the Academy was radically changed and it was renamed the Serbian Academy of Sciences. Instead of the four separate Academies, the new Academy had six Departments, of which the first was the Department of Mathematical Sciences. Twenty Institutes were established during 1947 and 1948, the first of which was the Mathematical Institute of the Serbian Academy of Sciences.
The Mathematical Institute was created from an earlier mathematical organisation, the Mathematician's Club, which was based in Belgrade from the 1920s and had published Publications Mathématique de l'Université de Belgrade from 1932. The war effectively ended the activities of the Club. However, the first seven members of the Mathematical Institute were all former members of the Mathematician's Club, so in a sense it can be seen as re-establishing the mathematical organisation which the Club had provided:-
From the beginning, the Institute had a concept which is very modern today. Rather than employing a large staff, as research institutes frequently do, the idea was to have members employed at other institutions while the Institute provides only the infrastructure for research: the library, colloquiums, seminars and courses, publications etc.
From 1947 the Institute began to publish a mathematics journal, essentially the continuation of that first established by the Mathematician's Club, but now called Publications de l'Institute Mathématique. In 1954 new laws concerning scientific activity altered the way the Academy operated. The Institutes became independent of the Academy but maintained an association with it.
The main topic of interest in the early years was analysis and its applications in mechanics but the topics of interest quickly broadened to cover a wide spectrum of mathematics. In the 1970s logic became the most important research area, having previously not been studied by Institute members. In the 1980s geometry and topology moved into leading roles, while in the 1990s the original topics from the 1950s of analysis and mechanics again became among the most widely studied. The Mathematical Institute has had a major influence not only on the development of research level mathematics, but also on mathematics teaching within the universities of Serbia. As a consequence mathematics education in Serbia has maintained an extremely high standard.
Among the mathematics publications of the Academy in recent years has been Académie Serbe des Sciences et des Arts. Classe des Sciences Mathématiques et Naturelles. Bulletin. Sciences Mathématiques.
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