Let ℛ be a family of sets. The intersection graph of ℛ is obtained by representing each set in ℛ by a vertex and connecting two vertices by an edge if and only if their corresponding sets intersect. Of primary interest are those classes of intersection graphs of families of sets having some specific topological or other structure. The "grandfather" of all intersection graphs is the class of interval graphs, that is, the intersection graphs of intervals on a line. The scope of research that has been going on in this general area extends from the mathematical and algorithmic properties of intersection graphs, to their generalizations and graph parameters motivated by them. In addition, many real-world applications involve the solution of problems on such graphs. In this paper a number of topics in algorithmic combinatorics which involve intersection graphs and their representative families of sets are presented. Recent applications to computer science are also discussed. The intention of this presentation is to provide an understanding of the main research directions which have been investigated and to suggest possible new directions of research. © 1988 Springer-Verlag.