The idea of establishing the Institute had its origins on the Danube River in the early 1990s. Robert and Elizabeth Nanovic were participants in a Notre Dame-sponsored tour of central and eastern Europe, complemented by daily lectures with Robert Wegs, a history professor at Notre Dame. “We had been thinking for some time about what we could do for Notre Dame,” Bob Nanovic remembers, “The idea of a program that could grow, evolve, and have an impact on the lives of students appealed to me.”

The Institute was created in 1992, first as a center for European studies which sponsored an annual conference and administered an undergraduate Minor. Following the expansion of its programs, it was designated an institute in 1997. The Institute’s second director, A. James McAdams, oversaw the development of the Institute’s first formal strategic plan in 2002. The goal of this plan was to use the Institute’s resources to provide greater intellectual coherence ot the educational experience of undergraduate and graduate students, integrate faculty research, and enhance the internal and external visibility of European studies at Notre Dame. McAdams also led the development of the Institute’s second strategic plan, which established the Institute’s ongoing presence in Notre Dame’s global gateways.