Originally the International Methodist Historical Society, it was formed in 1947 to co-ordinate the activities of historical societies and individual historians throughout the world. The first issue of its news bulletin World Parish appeared in 1948 and its first quinquennial meeting was held during the World Methodist Conference in 1951. Dr Maldwyn L. Edwards was elected President in 1966. At the World Methodist Conference in Denver in 1971, the Society was reorganized under its present title, and with a new Constitution. It held its first international conference at Wesley College, Bristol in 1973.
The British Section's committee was appointed by Conference, with Dr Frank Baker as its first secretary, and was charged with the oversight of historic sites and the commemoration of significant events. The first British residential conference was held at Kingsmead College, Selly Oak, in 1975 and a publishing programme was launched that year. Conferences and publishing have now been taken over by the Wesley Historical Society. The British Section was also involved in the organization of the first Archives Centre in London (now relocated to Manchester) and its Secretary is now a member of the connexional Archives and History Committee.