The Institute was established in December 1989 on the initiative of Saul Friedländer, at the time Cummings Professor of Modern European History at Tel Aviv University and Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. Friedländer, a world authority on Nazism, the Holocaust, and problems of historical writing and representation, headed the Institute until his retirement from Tel Aviv University in 2000.

Since the very beginning, the main activity of the Institute has been the publication of a twice-yearly journal, History & Memory: Studies in Representation of the Past. Since Volume 2 (1990) the journal has been published by Indiana University Press, which handles subscriptions, marketing and distribution.

Current Director and Senior Editor: Professor José Brunner

Managing Editor: Philippa Shimrat