We use data from the Hipparcos catalogue to construct colour–magnitude diagrams for the solar neighbourhood, which are then treated using advanced Bayesian analysis techniques to derive the star formation rate history, SFR(t), of this region over the last 3 Gyr. The method we use allows the recovery of the underlying SFR(t) without the need of assuming any a priori structure or condition on SFR(t), and hence yields a highly objective result. The remarkable accuracy of the data permits the reconstruction of the local SFR(t) with an unprecedented time resolution of ≈50 Myr. An SFR(t) that has an oscillatory component of period ≈0.5 Gyr is found, superimposed on a small level of constant star formation activity. Problems arising from the non-uniform selection function of the Hipparcos satellite are discussed and treated. Detailed statistical tests are then performed on the results, which confirm the inferred SFR(t) to be compatible with the observed distribution of stars.