In 1988 an international collegium of semioticians, on initiative of the Toronto Semiotic Circle, convened in Imatra. They created the ISI in order to promote international teaching of semiotics and to facilitate the mobility of students in the field. Thus Imatra became the headquarters of global network of semiotic institutions.
Imatra did not just remain a place for gathering information, but soon became an active center for research and conventions. Initially funded by the City of Imatra and the State of Finland. It has served as the meeting place for nearly one hundred events, ranging from seminars to the famous summer congresses, from winter schools to the annual meetings of the Finnish society, and sometimes also of the Nordic associations of Semiotics. The ISI regularly hosts the Finnish society, and sometimes also of the Nordic associations od semiotics. The ISI regularly hosts the Finnish-Hungarian symposia of semiotics, as well as the international doctoral and post-doctoral seminars on musical semiotics, which are part of the international Musical Signification project.
The ISI maintains close ties, through student and scholarly exchange, with Baltic countries, particularly with semioticians from Tartu University an the European University of St. Petersburg. Moreover, it has close international partnerships with among others, the universities of Odense (Denmark), Budapest, Sofia, Paris I, VII and X, Limoges, Aix en Provence, Bologna, San Marino, Bari, Thessaloniki, Toronto, Indiana (Bloomington), UNAM (Mexico City), Sao Paulo (Catholic), Lima, and Montevideo.
Together with Indiana University press, the ISI publishes an international series of monographs and anthologies an international series of monographs and anthologies entitled Acta Semiotica Fennica. 1998-2000 the ISI has been running research project on Understanding and Misunderstanding as a Semiotic Problem. From the project there will be two publications, one in English and the other in Finish (Ymmärtämisen merkit, 2000).