Pope Pius XII created this Committee on 7 April 1954 as the successor to the Commission of Cardinals for Historical Studies, which Pope Leo XIII had created on 18 August 1883 with the apostolic letter Saepenumero considerantes. That commission was created to contribute to the development and proper use of historical sciences, especially late in the nineteenth century when parts of the Vatican's historical records, known as the Vatican Secret Archive, was opened to scholars. The new Committee was created to foster cooperation with the International Committee of Historical Sciences, which was scheduled to hold its convention in Rome in 1955.
On 14 January 2019 Pope Francis created the new role of the Assessor as third leadership position, after the President and the Secretary.
The Committee is charged with promoting the use of ecclesiastical archives for historical research and fostering cooperation with ecclesiastical and extra-ecclesial institutions and associations, particularly at the international level. It sponsors seminars and conferences, both independently and in concert with peer organizations; reviews the historical data presented in the Pontifical Yearbook; collaborates with multinational scientific initiatives (UNESCO); and sponsors internships for the study of Latin and Greek.
In 2011, the Committee held a conference devoted to St. Catherine of Siena. In 2012 it marked the 1700th anniversary of the Battle of Ponte Milvio with a conference called "Constantine the Great. To the roots of Europe". A 2014 conference considered the legacy of Pope Pius X. In 2017, the Committee sponsored a three-day conference called "Luther: 500 Years Later" to examine the non-theological context of the origins of the Protestant Reformation.