The Atlanta History Center operates three types of exhibitions - permanent, temporary, and traveling. The six permanent exhibitions include:
The Kenan Research Center includes 3.5 million resources and a reproduction of historian Franklin Garrett's office.
The Atlanta History Center was founded in 1926 as the Atlanta Historical Society (AHS). Initially, the society operated as an institution for historical discussion and appreciation but, by the next year, began publishing the Atlanta Historical Bulletin. The AHS was first led by Walter McElreath (1867–1951), an Atlanta lawyer, legislator, and author for whom the Center's McElreath Hall is named. The periodical was later named Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South; it was published until 2006.
In 1986 the still relatively small group received the DuBose Collection of Civil War artifacts, donated by Mrs. Beverly M. DuBose Jr. In 1989, the Atlanta Historical Society built the current museum to house the DuBose collection.
In 1990, the Atlanta Historical Society was renamed the Atlanta History Center. The $15,000,000 museum opened in 1993 with five exhibitions, including its first signature Atlanta history exhibition, Metropolitan Frontiers. An $11,000,000 expansion, finished in 1996, added two new permanent exhibitions, Shaping Traditions: Folk Arts in a Changing South and Turning Point: The American Civil War. The Kenan Research Center library was later expanded and the gardens reorganized, with a fourth permanent exhibition added, Down the Fairway with Bobby Jones. In 2006, the Centennial Olympic Museum was completed.
In 2014, the city of Atlanta announced its intentions to relocate the Atlanta Cyclorama and its artifacts to the Atlanta History Center, including the antebellum Western & Atlantic locomotive, the Texas. The museum plans to construct an expansion to house the 360-degree panoramic painting of the Civil War, the Battle of Atlanta, as well as the Texas locomotive, and other pieces in the Cyclorama collection. The expanded history center is planned to be completed in 2018.
Paved pathways through the historic gardens connect to the Swan House and the Tullie Smith Farm, but most paths are unpaved. Large-print books are available for a few exhibitions in the Atlanta History Museum and videos have subtitles. Maps are available in English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.