Located in historical center of Saint Petersburg the Russian Museum of Ethnography is one of the largest ethnographic museums in the world. It represents ethnic culture of the Russian Federation and neighboring countries from Finland to China. The museum has more than 700,000 artifacts and negatives, which reflect the cultural heritage of 157 peoples of European Russia, Siberia, Far East, Caucasus and Crimea and embrace the period from late seventeenth century to present times.
The Russian Museum of Ethnography has more than 100 years of existence and its foundation is linked with the Alexander III, the Emperor of Russia. By his decree The Russian Museum was established in the April of 1895, in structure of which in the January of 1902 Nicolas II the last emperor of Russia organized the Ethnographic Department. The museum was conceived as grandiose imperial project which main objective was:”to show the picture of ethnographic dimension of our fatherland, the picture of peoples living in Russia and in close neighborhood with it.” Thus, the museum and its collections were forming not on the base of random sample or materials gathered for exhibition, but from the absolute zero in accordance with the concept elaborated by its founders, which concerned both external characteristics of museum's activity (architecture of building and its exhibition halls) and internal ones (collection gathering, structural organization, etc). This moment forms the uniqueness of the Russian Museum of Ethnography. External context was also in harmony with ideas of its founders, because the late nineteenth century, the Golden Age of the world exhibitions, which in significant degree determined our vision of the world as the series of representations, was marked by rapid increase of ethnographic museums in Europe and North America, which was part of effort to classify various ethnic cultures in order from top to toes. Scientific and ideological interests happily united in conceptual argumentation of necessity to create ethnographic museum: the new museum not only started to meet demands of rapidly developing ethnography but partly became showcase of the state colonial expansion and instrument of forming society as a colonial force. The partial reason was that Russian peasantry- the main object of museum interest occupied ambiguous position in the orientalistic paradigm. On one hand, they played a role of dominating force, assimilating other peoples with different degree of success. On the other hand, Russians themselves in the eyes of intellectual elite were almost unknown in ethnographic respect nation requiring detailed description, “inventory making” and classification.
In its condition of imperial museum (the chief curator was the Grand Prince Georgy Michailovich) it was to represent all the peoples of the Russian empire and simultaneously it was to show dominating role of the Russian people. Therefore, its main objective was formulated as the study of the “Russian people” and demonstration of its “ethnic individuality”. The museum's fields of interests included not only the peoples of Russia and neighboring territories, but also “the Slavic ethnography” - the tribute to Slavophilic inclinations of museum's founders and the emperor Alexander III, by whose decree the Russian Museum was established.
First time museum exposition was opened to public view in 1923, it was the result of ethnographers' effort to unite the picture of the USSR ethnographic dimension. The entire museum exposition was a sort of space model of state, therefore the peoples were arranged as much as possible in the way they actually lived. In 1934 the Ethnographic Department of the State Russian Museum was reorganized in the independent State Museum of Ethnography which in 1992 received its present name -The Russian Museum of Ethnography.