The National Museum of History of Azerbaijan is a scientific research, cultural and educational establishment that is occupied with collecting, study, exhibit and propaganda of material and spiritual monuments concerning all periods of Azerbaijan history. The museum was created by the name of ”The educational museum of native land” on June 15, 1920, attached to “Musexcursion” subdivision which was newly established at the department of out-of-school work of People's Education Commissariat of Azerbaijan SSR. The materials of “Istiglal” museum opened on the occasion of the anniversary of Parliament of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic on December 7, 1919, formed its main base. From July 1920, it was called “The educational museum of native land - Istiglal (Independence)“ in honor of the above-mentioned museum. From October 1920 to March 1936, it was named as Azerbaijan SSR State Museum. From July 1920 History Museum was placed in the palace built by a prominent oil baron and philanthropist, Hadji Zeynal Abdin Taghiyev in 1895-1901. The museum received its first visitors in May 1921.
In the initial period of its establishment such departments as History, Archaeology and Ethnography, Botany and Zoology, Mineralogy and Geology, Fine Arts and Artistic Craft, Public Education, Auxiliary Educational Institutions, as well as the Society on Exploration of Azerbaijan - Native land and the Commission on Ancient Monument's Guard functioned in the museum. The Society on Studies and Exploration of Azerbaijan established in 1923 and functioning in close relationship with the museum united the said society and the commission under its direction. The following years in accordance with the demand of the period structural changes were made at the museum repeatedly.
The increase of attention to the political-educational issues of the growing generation in the mid-1930s, the realization of the demands of the Party and the Government for the necessity of demonstrating the “privileges” of the socialist society at the museum expositions made the study of history and its propagation in accordance with the totalitarian regime policy one of the burning issues of the day. The increased attention to the teaching of history at schools was accompanied by the establishment of new type history-regional ethnography museums. Under the decree of the Council of People’s Commissars (CPC) of Azerbaijan of March 31, 1936, the rebuilding of Azerbaijan State Museum resulted in the establishment of the museum of a history profile and its being handed over the administration to the newly set up Azerbaijan branch of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR under the name of Azerbaijan History Museum. It in its turn gave rise to the separation of other non-history profile scientific fields in addition to the Theater Museum separated from the former State Museum in 1934 and to the establishment of new museums (Museum of History of Nature, Art Museum, Museum of Religion and Atheism History, Literature Museum, etc.). The mass repression and the war taken place at the end of the 30s and at the beginning of the 40s rarefied the rows of scholars and museum worker. History museum which used to be an independent body till 1941 turned into museum department within the Institute of History, Language and Literature of Azerbaijan branch of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Azerbaijan History Museum functioned under the same name attached to Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences of the USSR that was established in 1945.
From 1920 to 1941 organizing exhibitions mainly on different historical themes both at Taghiyev’s house and Shirvanshahs’ Palace the museum (in 1941-1952 the CPC of Azerbaijan SSR, later renamed Council of Ministers, was placed at Taghiyev’s house) much preferred research (especially archaeological) works in the years of war and the following years.
Given back of Taghiyev’s estate to the museum in 1953 and the measures taken by the state in the field of the museum-building created conditions for the establishment of the scientific exposition at the Azerbaijan History Museum reflecting the history of our people from the ancient periods up to now.
One needs frequently use the words “the first” or “for the first time” while speaking about the activity of the Azerbaijan History Museum. In fact, from 1925 to 60s, till carrying out excavations was given to History Institution of Academy of Sciences, History museum functioned as an archaeological center of the Republic and archaeological investigations carried out in Khojaly, Nakhchivan, Gabala, Ganja, Kharaba Gilan, Orengala, Mingechevir, etc. by archaeologists of History Museum Davud Sharifov, Yevgeni Pakhomov, Ishag Jafarzade, Movsyum Salamov, Saleh Gaziyev, Mammadali Huseynov , etc. laid the ground for the scientific investigation of the ancient monuments of material culture in the territory of Azerbaijan. Artefacts discovered during these expeditions and ethnographic expeditions organized by the Museum and stored at the museum departments today, enriched museum collection and became a source for many books and dissertations.
Beginning from the 60s though the museum did not organize archaeological expeditions, it became the center of a new area - underwater archaeological investigations. In 1968-1972 a divers' group led by Viktor Kvachidze investigated the Caspian Sea and seaside territory (Byandovan I, Byandovan II, Bilgeh, etc.) and discovered underwater archaeological materials which have a special place in the exposition today. They discovered medieval residences (Mughan, Gushtasfi) and founded research activity of them.
The rich collection of the museum has served as a source for booklets, catalogs, albums, and articles published in different years. The books published tastefully by the museum under the name “National garments”, ”Jewelry”, “Oriental arms”, “Copperware“, “Carpets and All Kinds of Carpets and Rugs”, “Azerbaijani embroideries”, “Archaeological material”, “Numismatics” and “Underwater archaeology” were received with great interest. Also, the publication of “The catalog of gold and silver objects found during archaeological excavations“ in 1966 and the album “The ancient adornments of Azerbaijan” in 1972 roused a great interest for history lovers. In the years of 1970-1980 a two-volume book by name “The exhibits speak” came out, covering the description and the information on the original and rare exhibits concerning our contemporary history.
An original “The Statehood in Azerbaijan and its symbols” book-album came out in 2000. Besides reflecting a greater material kept at the museum funds it comprises our state symbols for the first time in Azerbaijan-based history studies.
The Museum-related works published, and research sessions-related materials devoted to the results of research works carried out in the Museum in 1950-1990 comprise its research editions. Continued since 2001 under the name of “Azerbaijan History Museum“ this work has been edited by name “Azerbaijan History Museum- 80 “, “Azerbaijan History Museum -2002 “, “Azerbaijan History Museum- 2003”, ”Azerbaijan History Museum -2004”. The said works being the collection of scholarly work mainly rely on the Museum materials, reflect the characteristic features of the collected exhibits, the organization of expositions from scientific point of view, the duties of museum management studies and the scientific activity of the Museum research workers. In 2002 the “Maestro Niyazi” catalog made on the memorial collection preserved at the Museum funds in 2003. The “Multimedia” CD (with financial aid of UNESCO) devoted to the collection of the Azerbaijan History Museum came out. It should be noted that these works comprise only the least part of editions come out with signature stamps of the Azerbaijan History Museum throughout its activity.
The research works carried out in the Museum besides developing the Science of History in Azerbaijan also fulfil the main function of the Museum: they form the face of the museum i.e., its exposition. Though the results of various expeditions, valuable archaeological, ethnographic, numismatic materials and documents gained after intense searches are exhibited in the exposition of the Museum, and they witness the centuries-old culture and history peculiar to our people.
In 2005 began capital restoration and reconstruction of Azerbaijan History Museum. Consequently, Taghiyev’s palace obtained its past exterior and interior view again. In November 2005 the museum was given national status under order of Cabinet of Ministers.