This section owes its origin to a memorandum by Lord Esher in September 1906 recommending that the responsibility for compiling the naval and military history of the nation be transferred to a department of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Accordingly in 1907 the committee established a Historical Branch which undertook the completion of the history of the Boer War and embarked on a history of the Russo-Japanese War.
In 1914 the Committee decided that no attempt should be made thereafter to compile histories of wars in which this country was not a participant, but that when it was so involved special arrangements should be made as the occasion arose; in the meantime, a small permanent research staff should remain under the control of the secretary of the Committee. From 1914 the branch's main work became the preparation of official histories of naval and military operations during the First World War; it was not concerned with the civil aspects of that war.
Criticism of the official histories was expressed in the House of Commons at the time of the debate into the future of the Cabinet Office in June 1922. In the light of this, a Committee on the Historical Section of the CID was appointed. Reporting in 1923, it ignored a suggestion that the Section should be transferred to the British Museum, or similar institution, and suggested that a new sub-committee of the CID should be set up: the Committee on the Control of Official Histories was duly appointed.
With the disappearance of the CID in 1939, the Historical Section and its committee of control were transferred to the War Cabinet. In 1941, an advisory historical committee made up of academic historians from the universities was set up and the Section turned its attention to the official histories in the military and civil series of the Second World War.
In 1948, the Enemy Documents Section was formed to provide compilers of the official history of the Second World War with information about enemy policies and operations taken from original sources. General oversight was undertaken by the Joint Consultative Committee on Captured Enemy Documents, which was initially a Foreign Office Committee until 1959 (symbol JCC) when it became part of the Cabinet Committee structure (symbol CEO) until its dissolution in 1961.
In 1966 a programme of histories of post-war events and developments was inaugurated supervised by the Committee on Official Histories of Peacetime Events.
Starting in the 1960s, the Historical Section became actively involved in records management and release of official information issues, such as vetting ministers' memoirs, and in mediation of the effects of the Public Records Act, in the more covert areas of government, for example. This involvement increased by degrees, including assumption of oversight of records management within the Cabinet Office itself, and in 1992 the section was renamed the Historical and Records Section.