Historical development of the Museum (1926-2016)

The Macedonian Museum of Natural History was founded on 26th October 1926 on the initiative of the well-known zoologist Dr. Stanko Karaman. The idea of establishing an institution of this type was preceded by many events, which were crucial in making this decision. Primarily, it was the publishing of the monograph “Mazedonien” by Dr. Franz Doflein in 1921, which was where the young Stanko Karaman obtained the first information on diversity of Macedonian flora and fauna. That appeared to be the most profound incentive for him visiting Macedonia. He first visited in 1922. Although his first stay was short, Karaman succeeded to collect and study enough material to publish his first work – “Contribution to the herpetofauna of Macedonia”. His next, longer stay, was in the following 1923. On the invitation of the Hygienic Department of the Ministry of People’s Health, Stanko Karaman spent six months researching the malaria-carrying mosquitoes in order to stop the spreading of the disease. As a result of his work, the publication “Anopheles in Macedonia” appeared in the same year. Besides his official work, the young Karaman enthusiastically collected and studied diverse faunistic groups, especially paying attention to the fish fauna of Macedonia. The results of his work and dedication were again presented in another capital work for the Macedonian fauna – “Pisces Macedoniae”, published in Split, in 1924.

These two visits were crucial for his final decision to leave the University in Zagreb and to come to Macedonia for permanent work. In the newly-founded Department for Tropical Diseases, Dr.Karaman was appointed as parasitologist with an assignment to fight the carriers of malaria and intestinal diseases (helminthiasis) in Macedonia.

Travelling throughout Macedonia, Dr.Karaman continued with his activities, collecting and studying Macedonian fauna, this time with an idea that his work needs to be institutionalized. That idea finally came to fruition in the autumn of 1926, with the adoption of the Act for establishing the Zoological Museum, as part of the Museum of South Serbia. The period from the museum’s foundation to the beginning of the Second World War is characterized with very intense development in many ways. Although Dr.Karaman was the only biologist, assisted by one taxidermist and one technician, he succeeded in creating a rich museum collection and also organizing the first exhibitions as well as launching the first publications. His work was mostly published in the “Gazette of Skopje Scientific Society”, of which he was also the editor-in-chief from 1937 to 1941. His idea that the museum must have its own publication became a reality in 1939 when 7 issues of the periodical publication “Annales” were published. Further publication was interrupted by the Second World War.

The intense development of the Museum required larger premises and better working conditions. For that purpose, the Museum changed its location several times. The museum was initially located in the Musical School, then it moved into a building in the “Debar Maalo” area where it remained until 1934. In the period of 1934-1938, the museum was located in the building of the famous restaurant “Kermes”, in the city park from where it moved again into Dr. Ruben’s building, on “Ilindenska” street and was located there until 1941.

During the period of the occupation Dr.Karaman left the Museum and moved to Serbia. At that time the museum became a part of the Imperial Natural History Museum of Sofia. The entomologist Dr.KrastuyTuleškov was appointed as museum’s director. Towards the end of 1941 the museum moved again into a building at 11 “OrceNikolov” street, where it stayed until the catastrophic earthquake of 1963.

The period from the end of the Second World War to the catastrophic earthquake in 1963 is a time of rapid development of the museum. The young biologist PetarIkonomov was appointed as the director and under his direction all museum activities were intensified. The graduation of the first class of biologists at the Faculty of Philosophy – Department of Biology, eased the forming of the museum staff and provided a basis for a new museum organization by establishing different departments. Hydrology, Palaeontology and Botany were established first and closely followed by the departments of Entomology and Taxidermy. Another important part of the Museum to be established in this period was the Library.

In the following years the museum staff worked intensively on the rearrangement of the permanent exhibitions. Stuffed specimens of different groups were prepared and for the first time, a new method for the fabrication of artificial floral elements was developed. Through the dioramas this allowed for parts of nature to be presented in a very authentic way, both in the permanent and the temporary exhibitions.

The intensive scientific research work that was going on in the Museum imposed the need of reactivation of the publishing activities. PetarIkonomov and Dr.Karaman, who returned to the museum in 1952, initiated the publication of two new museum journals, Acta (1953) and Fragmentabalcanica (1954).

Besides the permanent exhibitions, the museum often organized thematic exhibitions. The issues which are covered in the exhibitions are mostly related to the curriculum and the school programs. The hosting of organized groups for exhibitions was also the beginning of the educational activity. This activity was covered by an employed biologist and it provided promotion of the museum as well as awareness raising about the importance of environmental protection and nature conservation.

The devastating earthquake of 1963 interrupted the regular work of the museum. Huge damages were caused both to the exhibitions and in the laboratories. The damages caused to the scientific collections were especially severe and significant material was lost forever. In that period the working conditions were extremely limited. The museum was housed in three temporary buildings, two of which were used for the exhibition and another one which was used as work premises.

In the period after the earthquake, the state authorities adopted a new physical plan for Skopje and it included a new building for the Museum of Natural History. Its construction began in 1967 and finished in 1969, the year when the museum officially started working in its present premises.

In the subsequent years, the main challenge to the already established technical and scientific staff was filling in the space provided for the permanent exhibitions. The museum worked intensively on collecting different materials and preparing them for exhibiting. Alongside this activity, the museum worked on preparing floristic materials needed for the dioramas and the technical constitution of the exhibition space. The long and intensive work resulted with a finished exhibition for the first floor in 1976 and for the second floor in 1981.

Besides the exhibition activities, which included the permanent and thematic exhibitions, the museum also worked on additional museum activities. On one hand, working on scientific research projects ensured collecting diverse museum material and a rich museum collection, and on the other hand intensifying the publishing activities. The latter activities covered both the need for scientific analysis as well as for promotion to the wider scientific public.

The opening of the permanent museum exhibits and the organization of the temporary thematic exhibits highlighted the need of continuous development of educational activities which lead to the establishment of the museum educator position in 1981. This created the necessary conditions for the development of a very important museum activity which provided direct contact with the public and raised awareness about the museum’s scientific work. The museum was also popularized through cooperation with schools and other related institutions, which made the educational activities an integral part of the overall museum work.

Today, the museum houses over 300 000 museum specimens and it publishes several publications. Besides the two exiting publications the museum also published the “Special Edition” in 1965 and “Fauna of Macedonia” in 1971. On the occasion of the 50th, 75th and 80th anniversary the museum published Anniversary Proceedings. The increased publishing activity and the exchange of publications with many related institutions around the world has created a library collection of approximately 50.000 titles.

As we celebrate its 90th anniversary, the National Institution “Macedonian Museum of Natural History” remains one of the pivotal institutions in the field of biology and its results far exceed the national boundaries and place this museum among the regional centres. Various turbulences of modern society at the national and regional level have left a definite mark on the museum. Fortunately, the museum is meeting its challenges head-on and successfully perseveres as an active participant in the preservation of Macedonian natural heritage.

MSc. Zoran Nikolov,

Museum educator

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