Abstract Human motion analysis is a recent topic of interest among the computer vision and video processing community. Research in this area is motivated by its wide range of applications such as surveillance and monitoring systems. In this paper we describe a system for recognition of various human actions from compressed video based on motion history information. We introduce the notion of quantifying the motion involved, through what we call Motion Flow History (MFH). The encoded motion information readily available in the compressed MPEG stream is used to construct the coarse Motion History Image (MHI) and the corresponding MFH. The features extracted from the static MHI and MFH compactly characterize the spatio-temporal and motion vector information of the action. Since the features are extracted from the partially decoded sparse motion data, the computational load is minimized to a great extent. The extracted features are used to train the KNN, Neural network, SVM and the Bayes classifiers for recognizing a set of seven human actions. The performance of each feature set with respect to various classifiers are analyzed.