A collection of ethnographical objects started forming at the University since day one. The Cabinet of Rarities was established as the predecessor of the Ethnographical Museum in 1815. It housed the ethnographical collection of Oceania by Ivan Simonov and the Chinese collection by Osip Kovalevsky.
The Museum was renamed as the Museum of Motherland Studies in late 19th century, and the priority then was Volga Area studies. Many contributions were made by N. Firsov, K. Fuchs, and A. Korsakov.
The Society of Archeology, History and Ethnography of Kazan University played a key role in ethnographical research and Volga Area ethnic studies. The Museum gathered materials from I. Smirnov (about Mari people), N. Nikolsky (about Chuvashs), M. Yevsevyev (about Mordvins), and N. Katanov (about Tatars and Khakases).
The Department of Geography and Ethnography was established in 1884. Its Cabinet collected anthropological guidebooks and ethnographical items from Africa, Australia, and the Americas. A large part of them was bought in Hamburg, Germany.
In 1913 Bruno Adler (1874 - 1942), a talented ethnographer and geographer, one of the forefathers of ethnology at Kazan University, united all the collections to form the Ethnographical Museum. The result occupied a rightful standing among the best university museums in Europe.
Under Dr. Adler's guidance students partook in field trips to Siberia and Russian Far East to study Golds, Orochs, Ostyaks, and other local ethnic groups.
Among Adler's best students was Nikolay Vorobiev, a prominent researcher of Tatar material culture.
During Soviet era significant contributions were made by Yevgeny Busygin (Russian and Vietnamese items) and Nikolay Zorin (Russian and Tuvin items).
Dozens of cultural items and relics of different nations are represented here. The Museum always follows its motto, formulated by the Society of Archeology, History and Ethnography in 1882, “We must judge ourselves and others by the highest universal principles”.