The Institute for Contemporary History (ICH - ISI in Serbian) was founded on 31 January 1969 through the integration of the Department for Historical Studies of the Institute for Social Sciences (created in 1958) and the First Department of the Institute for the Study of the Workers Movement (created in 1961). The founder of the Institute was the Federal Assembly of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY).
Since its foundation, the Institute for Contemporary History has not changed its name, its location, or its field of study, marking a rare example of durability among scholarly institutions in Serbia.

Initially, the ICH consisted of around 50 employees researching 11 projects: (1) Social and historical preconditions of the process of the creation of Yugoslavia in the course of the First World War, (2) Economic development, class differentiation and the change of Yugoslav social structures, (3) Social, political and cultural development in interwar Yugoslavia, (4) The Communist Party and the Yugoslav workers’ movement, (5) The international position and foreign policy of Yugoslavia 1918–1975, (6) The Communist Party and international movements 1919–1974, (7) Yugoslavia in the Second World War, (8) The social, political, and cultural development of the SFR of Yugoslavia, (9) The German aggression and the occupation of Yugoslavia, (10) The publication of historical sources for the history of Yugoslavia and (11) Bibliography of the history of the workers’ movement and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. In accordance with this conception, the Institute has been working on the history of the workers movement, but at the same time it has laid the foundations for the institutionalized research of the recent past. Between 1969 and 1994 the Institute’s associates published 104 monographs, 48 periodical publications, 28 edited volumes, 114 collections of documents, 15 bibliographies, and 11 chronologies.
Since the creation of the Institute for Contemporary History in 1969, 59 associates joined its ranks, 17 from the Institute for Social Sciences and 42 from the Institute for the Workers Movement. The ICH has employed 13 senior researchers with doctoral degrees, 12 researchers, five assistant researchers, nine archivists and six librarians. Leading researchers between 1959 and 1984 were Professor Dragoslav Janković, Pero Morača, Dr. Pero Damjanović, Dr. Vuk Vinaver, Dr. Živko Avramovski, Dr. Dušan Živković, Dr. Todor Stojkov, Dr. Bogumil Hrabak, Dr. Sergije Dimitrijević , Dr. Slavoljub Cvetković, Dr. Dušan Lukač, Dr. Branko Petranović, Dr. Đuro Stanisavljević, Dr. Milena Gecić, Dr. Branislav Gligorijević, Dr. Toma Milenković, Dr. Momčilo Zečević, Dr. Stojan Kesić, Dr. Miroljub Vasić, Dr. Milan Vesović, Dr. Smiljana Đurović, Dr. Nikola Živković, Dr. Nikola B. Popović, Dr. Petar Kačavenda, Dr. Slobodan D. Milošević, Dr. Venceslav Glišić, Dr. Ubavka Vujošević, and others.
During the 1980s, a number of young researchers joined the Institute: Dr. Jadranka Jovanović, Dr. Milan Ristović, Dr. Đoko Tripković, Dr. Momčilo Pavlović, Dr. Dragan Bogetić, Dr. Predrag J. Marković, Dr. Kosta Nikolić, Dr. Nebojša Popović, Dr. Milan Koljanin, followed by Dr. Nikola Žutić, Dr. Bojan B. Dimitrijević, Dr. Ranka Gašić, and others.
Their arrival coincided with the liberalization of the public scene in the latter period of Socialist Yugoslavia, allowing for the opening of previously proscribed directions of research. Regrettably, the deteriorating political, social and economic situation had resulted in serious cuts in the number of employees, scaled down to around two dozen. Yet, with the disintegration of Socialist Yugoslavia, the Institute for Contemporary History was not discontinued. From 1995 until 2000 fellows of the institute published another 33 monographs and a number of articles within the macro-project “History of Yugoslavia in the 20th century” (divided into subprojects: History of Yugoslavia 1918–1941, Yugoslavia in the Second World War 1941–1945, and Yugoslavia 1945–1992). The topical scope and variety of methodological directions of those publications reflect the Institute's endeavors to adjust to novel approaches to contemporary history. Those endeavors were systematized in 2001 with the introduction of the project system.