Historical Background

The archival tradition in Sri Lanka dates back to the rule of local kings, but the state archives from that era did not survive. From the sixteenth century, parts of the island were conquered by the Portuguese, who later destroyed their records. The Dutch then captured the maritime provinces from the Portuguese between 1638 and 1658. When the British took over the coastal territories in 1796, they acquired the Dutch records.

The Dutch records, amounting to over 7,000 volumes, have been preserved at the National Archives. During British colonial control, archival responsibility rested with the Colonial Secretary. In 1803, the position of "Keeper of Dutch Records" was created, and in 1901, a formal "Archivist and Librarian" role was established in the Chief Secretary's Office. R. G. Anthonisz was the first to hold the position. Later the position changed to Government Archivist. 

Post-Colonial Development

Following Sri Lanka's attainment of Dominion Status, the Department of the Government Archivist was established. In 1966, it was renamed the Department of National Archives, and the title of Government Archivist was changed to Director. In 2017, after the restructuring of the Department, the position was further elevated to Director General National Archives.

Due to war threats and requirements for space, the archives moved several times. From 1942 to 1962, they were in Nuwara Eliya, then at Vidyodaya University until 1970. The Kandy branch was established in 1983. The main head office in Colombo 7 was completed in 1986. An extension building with state-of-the-art facilities including a Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) system was opened in 2012. In 2014, the National Film, Television, and Film Archives was set up in the new building.


Department of National Archives Sri Lanka

Department of
National Archives
Sri Lanka

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