The band was formed in 1995 by Tim Kasher, Matt Maginn, Steve Pedersen (all formerly of Slowdown Virginia), and drummer Clint Schnase. In 1997, they released Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes. After a couple years of touring, the band broke up in 1998. They "posthumously" released The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song in the fall of that year. A year later, in the summer of 1999, the band re-formed. Pedersen had started law school and later formed The White Octave, so Ted Stevens (formerly of Lullaby for the Working Class) stepped in and joined the band. In 2000, their album Domestica, a concept album, gained them much attention from fans and critics.
Cursive added Gretta Cohn (on cello) in 2001; the strings added complementary sounds to that summer's Burst and Bloom. In 2002, the band toured on the Take Action! Tour.
Saddle Creek Records released The Ugly Organ in 2003. Music magazine Rolling Stone gave the album a 4-star rating, while alternative music magazine Alternative Press rated the album a perfect 5 out of 5. In 2004, The Cure selected Cursive to tour with them on their Curiosa tour, alongside Interpol, The Rapture, Mogwai, Scarling., and The Cooper Temple Clause. Afterwards, the band went on hiatus, with no specified return date.
The label put out a compilation album of unreleased songs and B-sides, The Difference Between Houses and Homes, on August 9, 2005. In mid-2005, Gretta left the band to pursue other musical opportunities, and has since formed the Brooklyn, NY-based band Twin Thousands. Instead of replacing her, the band remained four-piece.