The society to sponsor the series was established by the Prussian reformer Heinrich Friedrich Karl Freiherr vom Stein in 1819 and the first volumes appeared in 1826 and following years. The editor from 1826 until 1874 was Georg Heinrich Pertz, who was succeeded by Georg Waitz. Many eminent medievalists from Germany and, eventually, other countries, joined in the project of searching out and comparing manuscripts and producing scholarly editions. The motto chosen by Klein, Sanctus amor patriae dat animum ("Holy love for the fatherland gives the spirit") is explained as linking Romantic nationalism with professional scholarship.
The collection consists of five main areas, Antiquitates, Diplomata, Epistolae, Leges, Scriptores as well as Necrologia. Many subsidiary series have also been established, including a series of more compact volumes for school use (Scriptores in usum scholarum) and special studies (MGH Schriften).
The project, a major effort of historical scholarship, continues in the 21st century. In 2004, the MGH, with the support of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, made all of its publications which have been in print for more than five years available online, in photo-digital reproduction, via a link on the MGH homepage.
The institute "Monumenta Germaniae Historica" is located in Munich since 1949, with a large specialized library on the medieval history of Germany and Europe, including church history, alongside 130,000 monographs and approximately 150,000 dependent writings.