Unlike other museum creation processes here or abroad the MHC did not come into being as a consequence of a heritage logic or need (the existence of a collection of cultural items of a certain scope and value which was worth conserving and exhibiting), but rather from a legitimate institutional determination, which had already been stated in the early days of the recovery of democratic freedoms and the autonomy of the country: just like other countries around the world, Catalonia needed to have a museum that could express its national identity.
After considering a number of options, in 1993 the Catalan Government decided to install the museum in a sector of the building known as the Palau de Mar in the Old Port of Barcelona. The refurbishment and adaptation of the building as a museum was carried out according to a basic functional plan, whose main purpose was the organisation of a large permanent exhibition about the history of Catalonia, from prehistory to the 1980s.
As soon as the museum was inaugurated, the scope of its initial functions was substantially broadened. It soon felt the need to put on temporary exhibitions. Meanwhile, a first wave of donations of objects and documents began to arrive. They were often related to subjects of contemporary political and institutional history and the museum had to be prepared to house them. In consequence, a temporary exhibition room 1200 m2 in size had to be set up on the first floor of the building, along with two small stores.
The installation in the building of the Catalan Contemporary History Centre, especially the large library and document centre, in 1997 enriched the cultural attractions of the museum. It also brought about a new adaptation of its initial uses plan, although the two institutions have still not been organically and functionally integrated.
The approval of the Catalonia Museums Plan by the Catalan Government Culture and Media Department in 2008 was a turning point in the short history of the museum. It promoted the creation of thematic networks linked to reference national museums, among them the MHC. In consequence, in 2010 the Catalan History Museums and Monuments network was constituted. With the passing of Law 7/2011, of 27 July, concerning fiscal and financial measures, known as the “Omnibus Law”, which led to the creation of the Catalan Cultural Heritage Agency, the MHC has been integrated into it with the other publicly owned museums and monuments.
Since its creation in 1996, the following people have been directors of the museum:
1996: Carme Laura Gil i Miró
1996-2000: Josep Maria Solé i Sabaté
2000-2007: Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó
2007-2014: Agustí Alcoberro i Pericay
2014: Jusèp Boya i Busquet