EHESS has its origins in the Economics and Social Sciences department of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE), created in 1947 under the direction of Lucien Febvre. Over the following three decades this department was highly influential in carving out a place for Social Sciences as an epistemological domain in its own right, and as a space for inter-disciplinary exchanges focusing on a common research object: human societies.

As Director of the Economics and Social Sciences department of EPHE since 1972, Jacques Le Goff worked for the creation of an independent institution: the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). The school was established by decree on January 25 1975. In the early 1970s, it was housed at 54 Boulevard Raspail in Paris, in the same building as the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, founded by Fernand Braudel.

From the very beginning, it was the seat of a number of influential research centers that provided an intellectual home for some of the greatest historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers of the time including: Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, François Furet, Françoise Héritier, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Jean-Pierre Vernant

The EHESS attracts students from all over the world, who come to benefit from a complementary approach that combines an in-depth analysis of the past with research that is explicitly directed at understanding today's world. Students and researchers come together in seminars, which have been the traditional locus of training for research through research since the foundation of the School.

Ever since its official launch as an independent institution in 1975, the EHESS's mission has been to promote debate between researchers on concepts, disciplines, and cultural areas.

To celebrate the anniversary of its foundation as an independent institution, many scientific and artistic events were organized throughout 2015, which celebrated the diversity and richness of current research and the innovative potential of future work in the Social Sciences.

In April 2017 the EHESS' headquarters moved back to 54 boulevard Raspail, in the heart of Paris. See the video of the inauguration (in French).