Howard Gruber:

A Brief Biography

from the program at Celebrating the Life of Howard E. Gruber

After earning his Ph.D. at Cornell University, Howard Gruber taught at Queens University (Canada) and the University of Colorado. In the 1950s, he won a fellowship to study the history of science in England. Through that work he saw the need for in-depth, psychological studies of extraordinary thinking. Later that year, he went to Geneva and met Jean Piaget, who became a good friend and an important inspiration. During the 1960s, he taught at the New School for Social Research and at Rutgers University where he founded and directed the Institute for Cognitive Studies. Beginning in 1983, he held the Piaget Chair at the University of Geneva.

In collaboration with Jacques Voneche, Howard Gruber edited The Essential Piaget and played a vital role in interpreting Piaget's work for Americans. He was the first to study Darwin's unpublished notebooks in detail, resulting in the groundbreaking book, Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity. That provided a new, cognitive and holistic model for creativity research and had a wide impact on psychology and the history of science. The Nov-Dec 1999 issue of American Scientist included Darwin on Man as one of the "100 Books that Shaped a Century of Science."


With his wife, Doris Wallace, he developed the evolving systems approach to the case study method which shifted the question from What is creativity? to How do creative people do what they do? It embraced the fact that extraordinary creative thinking by definition is exceptional-not given to the predictability or norms for which psychology is known. It provided a method for studying any case of creativity, while valuing each case as unique.


He held a lifelong commitment to activism for peace, social justice and the environment. He helped organize the largest local chapter of SANE, actively opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam, was a co-founder of Psychologist for Social Action and protested outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.


Howie, as he was known by his friends, was a rare combination of brilliance, conviction, generosity and wit. He made a profound impression on almost everyone he met, including some of the world's leading thinkers and the many students in his classes. At the mention of his name, the faces of former students brighten as they speak of the transformative impact of having studied with him. He was a first-rate scholar, a great teacher and an invaluable friend.