[This is only meant to be a short overview. Those of you who want to know more, can look into the report, published in The Semiotic Web 1986, cf. Withalm 1987 – or, even better, the extended report dated 2004 which is available here (GS)]
In the early 60s, awareness about, and interest in, a particular approach to cultural phenomena increased, an approach that made the sign processes its starting point — semiotics. Specifically in 1962, two important conferences took place: the first in Bloomington, originally devoted to paralinguistics and kinesics; the other in Moscow, where the Symposium on the Structural Study of Sign Systems was held, uniting scholars from both Moscow and Tartu.
Although the IASS-AIS was founded at the end of the decade, its history dates back to the mid-60s. In1966 the very first international semiotic conference was organized in Poland (the Proceedings plus contributions from an earlier conference in Warsaw were edited by Greimas et al. 1970). In the same year, a Semiotic Association with Stefan Zolkiewski as president and Greimas as secretary general (cf. Deledalle’s “Presentation” in Balat & Deledalle-Rhodes 1992) was founded as well as a semiotic journal which appeared as a section of Social Science Information (a selection of articles was later published in a book: Kristeva, Rey-Debove & Umiker 1971). It was a goal of the association to formalize this first foundation, but due to the political situation in Central Eastern Europe the 1968 conference in Warsaw was not a representative forum. Finally, on January 21-22, 1969, a meeting was convened in Paris and the IASS-AIS was officially established.
To be brief, we will only mention the names of the officers who devoted their time and energy for the Association during the first 25 years (a detailed list can be found in the IASS-AIS Bulletin 13(1-2)1993 & 14(1-2)1994: 5-7; the current Bureau is listed on another page). Emile Benveniste was the first president. He was followed by Cesare Segre and Jerzy Pelc. Scholars such as Julia Kristeva, Umberto Eco, Gianfranco Bettetini, Antonino Buttitta, and Gérard Deledalle acted as Secretary General. Among the former Vice-Presidents between 1969 and 1994 we find names like: Haroldo de Campos, Vyacheslav Vs. Ivanov, Roman Jakobson, Jurij M. Lotman, Aleksandr Ljudskanov, Jean Petitot, Décio Pignatari, R.N. Srivastava, and Masao Yamaguchi. The Treasurers were Jacques Geninasca and Gloria Withalm. From the very beginning, the Editor-in-Chief of Semiotica has been Th.A. Sebeok.
For more details, see the extended report of the Lyon conference, written by former Secretary General Jeff Bernard.