The first professional educational and scientific institution in Serbia was established in 1893. That same year after his doctoral thesis defense – Das Karstphänomen, in Vienna, Jovan Cvijic established the Geographical Institute, at the Faculty of History and Philosophy in Velika Skola (Advanced School), that developed into the University of Belgrade in 1905. Since its foundation, the Geographical Institute, the forerunner of the current Faculty of Geography, was the initiator of the development of geography and the key factor of organized scientific research in various parts of the Balkan Peninsula, especially in the field of studying settlements, population and geomorphology. Within a short time, in 1910, the Serbian Geographical Society, the first association of geographers in the Balkans, was founded.
Prior to the establishment of the Geographical Institute, geography was taught in Serbia as a subject in Velika Skola, as well as in primary and secondary schools. In that period, a number of travel writers, writers and other cultural figures had an important role in collecting geographic knowledge (more like notes than real scientific knowledge) and spreading geographic ideas. Those were Joakim Vujic, “the father of Serbian theatre”, with several works – Novejše zemljopisanije (1825), Putešestvije po Srbiji (1826), Putešestvije po Ungariji, Valahiji, Moldaviji, Besarabiji, Hersonu i Krimu (1833) and others; Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, a great Serbian reformer in the field of culture and his work Geografičesko-statističesko opisanije Srbije (1827); Djordje Magarašević with his work Putovanja po Srbiji (1827); Dimitrije Tirol – Političko zemljopisanije (1832); Jovan Gavrilović – Rečnik geografijsko-statistični Srbije (1846); Jovan Dragašević, colonel, who taught Geography with Ethnology at the Belgrade Lyceum from 1880 – Prinos za geografiju Srbije (1873); Milan Dj. Milićević – Kneževina Srbija (1876), later (1884), Kraljevina Srbija, Vladimir Karić – Srbija (1887) and others.
The establishment of the Geographical Institute in Velika Skola can be recognized as the beginning of the development of scientific geography in Serbia and other Serbian countries. Within a relatively short period, the Serbian school of Geography gained recognition and took a prominent, even leading position in several segments, both in European and international context. This occurred primarily due to Jovan Cvijić and his students, the most respected of whom were Petar Jovanović (1893–1957), geomorphologist, Rista Nikolić (1877–1917), anthropogeographer, praised among Cvijic’s co-workers as “the most talented Cvijić’s pupil”, Jevto Dedijer, anthropogeographer, who accomplished great results in studying Herzegovina and others.
Ever since its foundation, the Belgrade school of geography occupied a leading position in the development of scientific geography and in the application of scientific results in diverse areas of social practice, such as: spatial planning, urban planning, rural planning, environmental protection and enhancement and others. Geographic ideas, concepts and overall accomplishments spread beyond Belgrade over time. Hence, in 1922 the Department for Geography was founded at the then Faculty of Philosophy in Skopje, which was closely associated with the centre of geography in Belgrade both in view of staff and theory and methodology; in 1963/64 the Department for Geography was established in Pristina (as an organisational unit of the Faculty of Philosophy within the University of Belgrade) and run by academician Atanasije Urošević etc. Likewise, the formation of other geographical institutions and associations in Serbian and Yugoslav counties, both in the past and in recent times, was accompanied by strong support – in view of staff and material assets, and the overall help by our first and leading geographical scientific centre in Belgrade. In that context, the today’s Faculty of Geography, following the tradition of Cvijic’s school of geography, can be unreservedly taken as the initiator and the key factor of development and affirmation of scientific geography in Serbia and neighbouring countries.
The creation of today’s Faculty was preceded by long development, from introducing the university education of geography to forming an institution professionally involved with scientific geography. The establishing of the Lyceum in Kragujevac in 1838, that was moved to Belgrade in 1841, is considered to have been the beginning of the university education of geography. Physical geography, as one of the twelve subjects, was introduced at the Department of Natural Sciences and Technology of the Lyceum by Decree of Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, Prince of Serbia. In 1863, the Lyceum was transformed into Velika Skola (Advanced School), which developed into the University of Belgrade in 1905. As already stated, the Geographical Institute was founded in 1883, and its first director was Jovan Cvijic.
The Faculty of Geography has changed its official name several times throughout history (the Geographical Institute, Chair of Geography, Department for Geographical Sciences, Department for Geographical Sciences and Spatial Planning, the Faculty of Geography of the Faculty of Sciences etc.) and the grouping of sciences that included it (Department of History and Philosophy of Velika Skola, the Faculty of Philosophy, the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics etc.). The current name was adopted in 1990, when the then Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics was transformed into six independent faculties (the Faculty of Geography, the Faculty of Biology, the Faculty of Mathematics, the Faculty of Physics, the Faculty of Chemistry and the Faculty for Physical Chemistry) within the University of Belgrade. Before becoming independent, the mentioned faculties had operated for a while as the group of the Faculties of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
The Faculty of Geography has developed dynamically throughout all its phases, with its share of ups and downs. The ups were related to the peacetime living and working circumstances and the downs to the wartime years. The Second World War was followed by staffing and financial consolidation of this institution which evidently led to rapid development of scientific geography in terms of theory, methodology, personnel and organisation, as well as in the application of its results in various areas of social practice. New departments were formed in undergraduate and postgraduate studies: Tourism, Spatial Planning, Demography and Environment.
The studies of geography have been continuously improved by studying new educational and scientific disciplines, using the most advanced methods in scientific research and teaching, as well as in terms of organization, personnel and all other possible ways.
Field teaching is an integral part of the curriculum of all departments, and it is implemented on basis of the syllabus adopted by the Academic Council of the Faculty.
The Faculty of Geography is involved in several programmes aimed at university teaching of the leading international companies in the area of information technologies. Thus we can introduce our students to and help them use the most sophisticated programmes of Intergraph, Microsoft and Oracle companies. Apart from the regular lessons, elective courses are organised at the Faculty and students who attend them can gain additional information and knowledge about the usage and application of different software packages in geography, tourismology, spatial planning, demography and the environmental science.
In the course of teaching and scientific research, the Faculty cooperates with many scientific institutes, related faculties and other institutions: the Geographical Institute “Jovan Cvijic”, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA) in Belgrade, Military Geographical Institute, the Institute of Architecture and Urban & Spatial Planning of Serbia (IAUS), the Yugoslav Institute for Urban Development and Housing (JUGINUS), the Institute for the Serbian Language of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade, the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade, the Faculties of Sciences in Novi Sad, Pristina (temporarily located at Kosovska Mitrovica), Nis, Banjaluka and Eastern Sarajevo, the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, Geokarta in Belgrade and others. The teaching and scientific cooperation with many related institutions in the neighbouring countries and Europe have been reintroduced recently after many years of political and economic blockade of Serbia (the state Faculty of Geography in Moscow, University in Ljubljana, University in Sofia, University in Skopje, the Sorbonne etc.). This cooperation provides the teachers and teaching associates of the Faculty of Geography with high quality teaching and scientific training.
The Faculty of Geography is the main initiator and the key factor of development of the Serbian school of geography, also named Cvijic’s school of geography after its creator. There were two main development phases: traditional and contemporary.
The traditional development phase of Serbian geography lasted between the end of the 19th century and the middle of the twentieth century. It was characterized by industrialization and professionalization of scientific geography (foundation of the Geographical Institute and the Serbian Geographical Society in Belgrade, by launching geographical publications – series Naselja Srpskih zemalja, Bulletin of the Serbian Geographical Society etc.) in Belgrade and in other university centres. This phase is stamped on the history of Serbian scientific geography, particularly because of the colossal scientific achievements in the field of geomorphology, settlement geography and population geography as well as other areas of geographic science (climatology, commercial and economic geography, regional geography etc.). Scientific results achieved in anthropogeographic studies of settlements of Serbian countries, origin and psychological characteristics of the population are of great importance even today. The science has already asserted that the Serbian school of geography was “the first school of this kind here, and in many aspects in the world” when it comes to the study of settlements and population.
The contemporary phase of development of the Serbian school of geography, as previously stated, has been in progress since the middle of the 20th century. New tendencies are directed towards linking the theoretical and methodological and overall achievements of traditional geography with new aspects and approaches in geographical studies, as well as towards discovering new ways of affirmation of geographic science. The following trends are important from this point of view:
- development of some new geographic disciplines (tourism geography, geographic basics of spatial planning, applied hydrology, applied climatology, applied rural and urban geography, environmental geography, geographical information systems etc.),
- founding, development and affirmation of new scientific approaches in contemporary geographical studies (perspective, systematic, spatial-planning, geoecological, demogeographic, tourism-geographic, tourismologic approaches),
- application of quantitative methods and structural analysis (explanation and understanding of certain natural and social structures) in geographical studies,
- study of spatial and functional organization of particular geographic objects, phenomena and processes,
- contribution to quality of life enhancement and rational exploitation and management of resources
- diversified scientific cooperation of geography through multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary studies with other individual sciences (sociology, economics, urbanism, ethnology, demography and others) in the area of studying diverse and related problems,
- stronger, more comprehensive and stable linking with particular areas of social practice, above all with spatial and urban planning etc.
The contemporary tendencies in the development of Serbian geography are marked, among other things, by establishing the new organisational units and departments within almost all university centres with geographical institutions. They initially appeared at the University of Belgrade (The Institute for Tourism and Spatial Planning was founded in 1971, Department for Tourism in 1972, Department for Spatial Planning in 1977, Department for Demography in 1999, Department for Geospatial and Environmental Science in 2000 etc.) and they were later taken to other scientific and university centres in the surroundings – Novi Sad, Pristina, Banjaluka, Nis, Niksic and Eastern Sarajevo.