Taking part in the historiographical revival on multiethnic Russian Empire, the present article focuses on Bashkir history and presents a brief analysis of the last three centuries to illustrate what collective identities the imperial system made possible or suppressed, and how these identities varied over time. The author’s main hypothesis is that the Tsarist regime’s institutions, ideas and practices did not just oppress nationalities, but also helped to shape national identities. In that respect, the history of interactions between Bashkir tribes and the imperial state provides a good prism through which can be examine the constitution of nationalities before 1917. Through a chronological presentation, the author suggests several ways in which the Russian state influenced the development of Bashkir nationality. Till the late eighteenth century, the overwhelming priority for Tsarist officials was the loyalty and support of Bashkir tribes (plemeni) and clans (rody). The Russian state granted them with hereditary rights to the land and contributed to fix the tribal organisation of the Bashkirs. When in the 1790s the authorities’ priority shifted towards the settlement of nomadic Bashkirs and the defence of the steppe frontier, the Cantonal system of administration was introduced, which created a new Bashkir élite and provoked a shift from clan to territorial organisation. From 1865 onwards the reforms tending to diminish estate differences, the state policy tended to erode Bashkir particularity (through land confiscation and modification of their military service). After 1905 the Bashkirs would take advantage of the widening of public sphere for asserting their collective interests. Finally, defence and illustration of their specific nationality became a salient feature of the Bashkirs by 1917. However, if the demonstration is relevant for an understanding of how imperial Russia’s state policy provided cultural frameworks for nascent Bashkir nationalism, the question remains to determine on which extend these shifts between tribes, estate, and national identities resulted from official injunctions and not from changes in the way communities could think about themselves. We can for instance regret the author’s lack of interest in Jadidism and in the upheavals in the foundation of regional and local Islamic communities. It would also have been important to take into consideration the negative reaction of a number of Bashkir protagonists to the ideas of Turkism. Despite these limitations, this article remains a significant contribution to the development of studies in regional history of the Tsarist Empire.