The Institute of International Studies was founded in 1955, a time of upheaval and rebuilding. Its creation did not take place in a vacuum. Institutions of higher education around the country—Harvard, Princeton, and MIT, among others—established similar interdisciplinary research centers on their campuses to study global relationships. The movement of international studies was afoot.

During this postwar era marked by supranational institution-making and an escalating nuclear arms race, academia strove to explain the origins and consequences of this new global order. In a speech to the Academic Senate inaugurating the creation of IIS in December of 1955, then-Chancellor Clark Kerr said: 

“The establishment of the Institute of International Studies marks a step forward in the University's program of research and advancement of human knowledge in a field which has become increasingly important as the United States has assumed a position of world leadership. The Institute of International Studies provides a focal point essential to the University's proper discharge of its share of the national responsibility in this area.”

At its founding, IIS became the umbrella for a number of existing campus programs centers, among them the Bureau of International Relations and the Institute of East Asiatic Studies. In the years following, it fostered many more, sharing organizational and financial resources with faculty members from a wide array of departments to build robust area studies programs, many of which have now blossomed into institutes of their own.

As academic focus shifted away from the West to decolonizing and other “Third World” countries beginning the early 1960s, IIS dedicated ever more resources to fostering comparative analysis. In 1962 it established the International Data Library and Reference Service, with original survey data from hundreds of studies conducted around the world for comparative area research. This library housed a state-of-the-art IBM 1620 computer for data processing.

IIS also supported the Bureau of International Studies, now under its purview, in creating training programs for the Peace Corps and other community development projects. It began the publication of a new journal, Comparative Studies, to showcase theoretical research on global affairs.

In the years following, IIS expanded many of its programs and deepened relationships with faculty members from across the campus and the world. It became the host for the prolific Conversations with History series, hosted by Prof. emeritus Harry Kreisler as well as the Elberg Lecture Series

Today, IIS is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking centers of research on campus and continues to foster scholarship and teaching on issues that transcend borders around the globe.

A Timeline of Area Studies Programs Developed by IIS

  • Center for Latin American Studies (1956)

  • Center for South Asian Studies (1956)

  • Center for Chinese Studies (1957)

  • Center for Slavic and European Studies (1957)

  • Committee for African Studies (1960)

  • Center for Southeast Asia Studies (1960)

  • Committee for Middle Eastern Studies (1962)

  • Center for Japanese and Korean Studies (1964)


1955–1956: Covey Oliver, chairman

1956–1962: Paul Taylor, chairman

1962–1966: Seymour Lipset, director

1966–1967: David E. Apter, director

1967–1969: Ernst Haas, acting director

1969–1973: Ernst Haas, director

1973–1989: Carl Rosberg, director

1990–1992: Laura Tyson, director

1994–2003: Michael Watts, director

2003–2009: Steven Weber, director

2009–2019: Pradeep Chhibber, director

2019-present: Daniel Sargent & Susan Hyde, co-directors