The university archives is the repository of the university's records. The records of large European universities with a history of several centuries were initially kept by the bureaus of the university, the rector’s, the chancellor’s and the deans’ offices, and later by the university libraries in general. As a result of the rapid development at the beginning of the 19th century, the organization, literacy, and administration of universities also changed: the amount of records created by the university, which had to be preserved, processed, and researched, increased exponentially. This is how the first university archives in Europe were founded.
In Hungary, Remig Békefi, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Budapest, was the first to propose the establishment of a university archives in 1911, which did not materialize either then or between the two world wars. After the Second World War, the intention of the science policy leadership was to hand over the university's records to the National Archives. Eötvös Loránd University hand over 137 linear meters of records in 1951 and another 200 linear meters of records in 1953 to the National Archives of Hungary. In 1956, the building and the archival holdings of the National Archives were damaged by a Russian artillery hit, and in the fire the university’s records, which were mostly created in the 19th century, were also destroyed. After the huge loss, László Mátrai, General Director of the University Library, proposed in January 1957 to survey the remaining records, and then on December 6, 1957, a committee led by Deputy Rector György Székely made a detailed proposal on the establishment of the University Archives. The request for university management was also approved by the Ministry of Culture, so in 1958 the first university archives in the country could start operating.
The archives were initially housed in the University Library, professional supervision was provided by the head of the Manuscript Collection of the University Library. In 1964, the archives moved to the building of the Faculty of Sciences of the Eötvös Loránd University at Ludovika Square, where collection, arrangement and processing work could begin, and research opportunities were provided. From 1973, the archives operated as a department of the University Library, supervised by the General Director of the Library.
An important change in the life of the archives was the preparations for the 350th jubilee of the university, because in 1978 the university management decided to write a new, comprehensive university history. The need to explore the historical records strongly drew attention to the archives’ placement and other problems. In 1982, large-scale reconstruction plans were developed for the University Archives, and then the university formally requested the Ministry of Culture to declare the institution a specialist archives. As a result, on September 1, 1983, the Ministry reclassified the ELTE Archives as a specialist archives with independent professional management and budget.
From 1984, the staff of the archives was expanded to three and then to four, so that more intensive professional work could begin. To support this, an Archives Committee was established at the university, chaired by the head of the Department of Auxiliary Sciences in History. The reconstruction of the archives’ building began in 1983 and was completed in 1987. During the reconstruction, the premises of the archives were renovated, a new research room was created and a modern, new deposit was built, with which the storage capacity of the archives became suitable for placing 1000 linear meters of records.
In 1992, the relocation of the archives was on the agenda. The Hungarian Armed Forces wanted to use part of the former Ludovika Academy again, and the other part of the building was given to the Hungarian Natural History Museum. In 2004, the renovation work on the museum was advanced, so the Archives had to leave the building. As a temporary solution, it was housed in the University Library; in 2005 the university offered the archives the building of the former university printing house on Maglódi Street. The relocation took place between 2005 and 2007, with approximately 1,300 linear meters of records placed in renovated deposits, and it was possible to further expand storage capacity. In 2017, the archives became part of the library again, and it continues to operate as the ELTE University Library and Archives.