The Russian Museum of Ethnography is the only museum in the world to present the traditional cultures of the peoples inhabiting Russia and the neighboring countries of Europe and Asia. It is on a par with Russia's largest ethnographic museums for its vast collections. Alongside material relics, it collects and preserves books, manuscripts, drawings, photographs, and negatives. In 1986, the Russian Museum of Ethnography received the status of the top- ranking research institution, and in 1991 it was entered in the Russian Federation's State Register of Especially Valuable Objects of Cultural Heritage.
Today, the museum has a stock of over half a million material relics, of which about a half are object of the traditional cultures of peoples that inhabited the former Russian Empire and the adjoining territories in Asia and Europe. Most of the ethnographic relics comprising the museum's collection span the period between the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth century; there are, however, a number of earlier artifacts, dating from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century, and an array of more recent items, including contemporary articles.
The museum's collection of negatives and photographs includes over 185,000 items, the earliest of which date back to the 1860s. The main source of augmenting this collection was field photography carried out during expeditions by ethnographers or professional photographers commissioned by the museum.