The ethnologist Josip Milicevic worked at our Institute for five years (1.12.1963 – 31.5.1968), and will be remembered in the Institute’s history as the first ethnologist in the then established Department for Customs. In the course of the research activities of the Institute of Folk Art (today’s Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research), the need arose for an investigation into the context of folklore phenomena, which was part of the proposed activities of the new department. Josip Milicevic wholeheartedly took on this work of research mainly into traditions and beliefs, although he was also interested in traditional trades. On his numerous field expeditions (Adriatic islands, Dalmatian coast and hinterland, the areas around Daruvar and Slavonska Pozega) he faced the ethnographic reality of that time and took a step away from the then generally accepted cultural historical methodology that he had learnt as a student and graduate of the Zagreb school of ethnology.
His field notes were not a collection of impersonal data; in the main they were portraits of the life experiences of his informants, with whom he repeatedly spoke to, following their patterns of movement. In order to gain a better understanding of local cultures, he used works of fiction as a source, which for that era was definitely a new approach. The results of his short stay at the Institute are his studies into the traditions and beliefs that accompanied agricultural work in central Istria (1966), about folk life and traditions in the Sinjska Krajina (1968-1969), as well as about folk life and traditions on the Island of Brac (1974-75). He was also part of the research team who undertook research into the ethnographic folklore heritage of the Croatian Diaspora in Slovakia.
The circumstances of his personal and professional life led him to Istria, where he worked as a museologist at the Ethnographic museum in Pazin, as well as a research associate in the Pula department of the Institute for Historical and Social Sciences in Rijeka at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. His professional research interests covered a wide range of themes in Istria’s ethnographic past and present, and as a result, his range of published works extended from an elaboration on certain agricultural and handicraft activities, peasant architecture, customs and other forms of traditional culture, through to an investigation of the sources of the ethnography of Istria and the works of particular Istrian authors. As well, he was engaged in the reconstruction of traditional folklore and the staging of customs. He also participated in theoretical debates in museum studies. He reconsidered the complex problem of the creation and production of souvenirs for a tourist area such as Istria, and contributed to this on both a theoretical and practical level, particularly focusing on Istrian handicrafts, which had been the theme of his Doctoral thesis.
Milicevic did not break off contact with other areas because of his long stay in Istria. On the contrary, he was actively involved in professional societies such as the Croatian Folklore Society and the Croatian Society of Museologists and Conservatorists. He was a particularly valuable member of the Croatian Ethnological Society, gave a number of lectures, was involved in administrative work and committees, and in the period of 1977-78 he was its President. He was a warm host to all who were brought by work reasons to Istria, no matter whether they were undergraduate students, museologists, or domestic or foreign researchers. His association with the Institute was crowned in the publication of his work Narodna umjetnost Istre, which in 1988 was issued as the tenth book in an edition of the Institute’s special series.