The origins of the Nordic Institute of Latin American Studies (LAIS) go back to the foundation of the Ibero-American Institute, with library, at the Stockholm School of Economics, on November 30, 1951. On May 29th, 1969 the institute was given an independent status and the wider roles as a coordinating and information center for Latin American studies in Sweden. At this juncture its name was changed in 1970 to Institute of Latin American Studies moving its administrative affiliation from the Stockholm School of Economics to Stockholm University, as a unit directly tied to the Rectorate.  July 1, 1977, the institute became formally incorporated to Stockholm University and in 1985 it moved from it’s location in downtown Stockholm to the University campus in Frescati. The first Chairman of the institute’s Board was the economist Gunnar Myrdal and its first director, the historian, Magnus Mörner.

On April 10, 2019, the President of Stockholm University, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, approved the new statutes of the institute, changing its name to Nordic Institute of Latin American Studies. In the new aims of the Institute it was now included, to promote Nordic cooperation in the area of Latin American Studies, as well as promote relations between the Nordic countries and Latin America.

A Board and a Director preside over the work of the Institute, both are appointed by the president of Stockholm University. Members of the board are distinguished scholars from Nordic universities as well as a representative from the Faculty of Humanities at Stockholm University. The current chairman of the board is Professor Benedicte Bull, from Oslo University.

Among the main tasks assigned to the Institute are to perform and stimulate research as well as to organize courses and disseminate information on the political, social and economic conditions in Latin American and Caribbean countries. Accordingly, the Institute provides masters and research degree supervision in selected areas and issues, as well as assistance in seeking external funding and preparation of fieldwork. It also runs a teaching program at the Masters and undergraduate level.

A number of researchers and research students from diverse universities and countries participate in the Institute's research activities. These and other interested persons outside the university are brought together in seminars and conferences and as guest scholars.

The Institute is actively involved in international cooperation on Latin American studies, particularly with universities and research institutes in Latin America, Europe, and the United States. It also maintains a library housing more than 40,000 volumes, as well as important scientific periodical and reference materials. The library, which is formally under the authority of the Stockholm University Library, is open to students, researchers, and the public.