In 1847 a committee was created in Berlin with the aim of publishing an organized collection of Latin inscriptions, which had previously been described piecemeal by hundreds of scholars over the preceding centuries. The leading figure of this committee was Theodor Mommsen (who wrote several of the volumes covering Italy). Much of the work involved personal inspections of sites and monuments in an attempt to replicate the original as much as possible. In those cases where a previously cited inscription could no longer be found, the authors tried to get an accurate reading by comparing the versions of the published inscription in the works of previous authors who had seen the original.
The CIL presently consists of 17 "volumes", some of which are published as several physical volumes. The descriptions include images of the original inscription if available, drawings showing the letters in their original size and position, and an interpretation reconstructing abbreviations and missing words, along with discussion of issues and problems. The language of the CIL is Latin.
The Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften continues to update and reprint the CIL.