In 1879, Charles Eliot Norton, professor of the History of Art at Harvard University, founded, with a group of eleven associates, the Archaeological Institute of America. Norton was elected the first president of the AIA. During his presidency, which lasted for eleven years, Norton was involved in the supervision of Institute fieldwork in both the Old and New Worlds, in the founding of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, and in the publication of the first American Journal of Archaeology.
In 1907, James Loeb, who had been one of Norton's students at Harvard, offered to pay the honorarium of "some distinguished foreign lecturer" thereby founding the Norton Lectureship. Professor D.G. Hogarth delivered the first Norton Lectures in 1907-1908. In 1909 James Loeb created the Charles Eliot Norton Memorial Lecture Fund to support "one or more distinguished archaeologists for a course of lectures...preference to be given to European scholars, but in the discretion of the Council, invitations may also be extended to American scholars."
Since its beginnings, the Norton Lectureship has undergone some transformations but it always was and continues to be to this day, one of the highest honors that the Institute can bestow. Today the Charles Eliot Norton Memorial Lecturers are distinguished archaeologists and eminent scholars who may be of any nationality and may work in any field of our discipline. The Norton Lecturers are chosen by the Lecture Program Committee and annually lecture to seventeen local societies.