Earth is our home and we, along with all life, are dependent on it for our future. There is no more fundamental issue, from either a philosophical or a practical viewpoint, than to understand Earth history and how it has evolved to form the environment we live in and the resources on which we depend. The origin of Earth, and our role within it, has fascinated humanity from time immemorial, yet we know remarkably little of Earth’s long-term temporal and spatial evolution. Apart from the last few thousand years, most of our 4.55 billion years of history is preserved in the rock archive, but that record is incomplete, and our knowledge of it decreases with increasing age and depth. Furthermore, the long-term record is restricted to relatively buoyant continental lithosphere (crust and upper mantle). Thus, continents provide the only long-term record of development and evolution of our planet’s atmosphere, oceans, crust and underlying mantle from the time of their formation to the present day. Over the past quarter century, our ability to interrogate the continental record has dramatically improved through developments in microanalysis and in computing. This has enabled ever-increasing documentation of spatial and temporal variations in rock units and events, including the composition and pressure-temperature-time conditions to which specific rocks and regions were subjected, and from this data an increased ability to develop high-fidelity numerical models of the processes involved. These expanding data sets and models highlight the dynamic nature of our planet’s feedbacks between its solid and surficial reservoirs, and their response to evolving internal and external forces.