In 1880 Charles W. Emerson, a Unitarian minister from Vermont, established the Boston Conservatory of Elocution, Oratory, and Dramatic Art with only a single classroom of ten students. After several name changes, the College finally came to be known simply as Emerson College in 1939. The early curriculum included courses in Oratory, Voice Training, Literary Interpretation, Dramatic and Platform Art, Physical Training, Language and Literature and Pedagogy. This foundation enabled Emerson College to achieve several milestones such as creating the first Children’s Theater program in 1919, receiving the first educational broadcasting license for WERS in 1949, and establishing the Robbins Speech and Hearing Clinic in 1953. Emerson has further enhanced its profile in the communication and media industries by creating the EVVY Awards in 1982, the Emerson Film Festival in 2000, and the Game Engagement Lab in 2010.

Emerson College has extended its reach beyond Boston and now includes several programs in the U.S., Europe and Asia, including the Los Angeles Center established in 1986 and an overseas program at Kasteel Well in the Netherlands established in 1988. Within the city of Boston, Emerson has become an important partner in the revitalization and community building efforts by renovating and restoring the historic Majestic (1989) and Paramount (2010) theaters as well as establishing the Elma Lewis Center (2012).

The Emerson College History Online (ECHO) project is an interactive timeline created by the Emerson College Archives and Special Collection. The ECHO project is inspired by the college's history in performing arts and media programs. In 2014, when the Emerson Uncommon game started, the Iwasaki Library proposed creating an interactive, media-rich updated version of the College’s history and making it available online. The prize funded a student worker to do content research, user testing focus groups, and a launch party for students in the Library in Fall 2015.