In the mid-twentieth century, an association called Alpes de Lumière began collecting objects, tools and stories relating to rural life in Haute-Provence. The museum grew out of this ethnographic research. The 15,000 items collected formed the initial collection of the Haute-Provence conservation centre founded at Salagon in 1981.
Two years later, in 1983, a scientific committee was created and research became a priority. The collections became the key to a more wide-ranging project to study the original culture of Haute-Provence, analyse the ways this culture has developed in contemporary society and contribute to the debate on rural areas, their current evolution and the issues facing them.
In 1996, the quality of the research conducted at Salagon led the museum to be certified as an Ethnology Centre. This certification was awarded by the French Ministry of Culture to support the role of ethnological research in cultural development. Salagon became one of France's four centres of excellence for ethnology, involved in research and the publication of knowledge, scientific, cultural and regional partnerships and national and international cooperation schemes.
Originally, the themes researched mainly concerned crafts and agriculture in Haute-Provence. These days, they investigate contemporary society in the area. Salagon began specialising in ethnobotany in the 1980s. This hybrid science brings together ethnology and botany to study the relationships between man and plants. Salagon is currently overseeing two studies led by young researchers. One concerns the collection of wild plants, while the other is looking at the ecological balances in countryside shaped by man.
Other studies relate to the ethnology of Provence. One current study is investigating migration described as "for lifestyle reasons" – foreigners who choose to come and live in Haute-Provence.