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Campbell, Donald T. (Donald Thomas), 1916-1996



Donald T. Campbell was born on November 20, 1916, at Grass Lake, Michigan, the son of Arthur and Hazel Campbell. The Campbells moved first to a cattle ranch in Wyoming and then to California, where Campbell completed high school in 1934. After working for a year on a turkey ranch in Victorville, California (to fulfill his family's desire that he gain real-world experience), Campbell spent two years at San Bernardino Valley Union Junior College. He later transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied psychology. He graduated at the top of his class in 1939. Campbell began his doctoral studies at Berkeley that same year. After serving in United States Navy during World War II, he completed his doctoral degree in psychology in 1947 with a dissertation entitled "The Generality of a Social Attitude," which examined attitudes towards various ethnic groups.

Campbell began his academic career in 1947 as an associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. In 1950, he moved to the University of Chicago to accept a position as assistant professor of psychology. After serving at Chicago for three years, he took a post as associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University. Northwestern promoted him to full professor in 1958, and Campbell became the Morrison Professor of Psychology in 1973. He left Northwestern in 1979 to become the New York State Board of Regents Albert Schweitzer Professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University. Three years later, in 1982, he moved on again to become University Professor of Social Relations, Psychology, and Education at Lehigh University, an institution from which he "quasi-retired" in 1994. Campbell, however, remained an active scholar until his death on May 6, 1996. Highly productive, Campbell authored or contributed to dozens of books and published over 200 papers during his career.

During his lengthy career, Campbell was, in his own words, "honored to a flukishly erratic extent" (Footnote 1).  His honors included: election to the presidency of the American Psychological Association (1975), the American Educational Research Association distinguished contribution award (1981), the Lehigh University College of Education Award for Outstanding Service (1993), and the William James Fellow Award from the American Psychological Society (1989). In 1982, the American Psychological Association inaugurated the annual "Donald T. Campbell Award for Significant Research in Social Psychology."

Campbell was a visiting associate professor at Yale University in 1955, and, in 1965-1966, he was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Campbell was also a Fulbright lecturer and visiting professor in social psychology at the University of Oxford from 1968- 1969 and, in the spring of 1977, he served as William James Lecturer and visiting professor in psychology and social relations at Harvard University. Campbell received seven honorary degrees throughout his career, including one from Northwestern University in 1983.

While Campbell was by training a social psychologist, his main field of study was scientific inquiry itself, which he explored in methodological treatises on field research and research design. Campbell's 1963 chapter with Julian Stanley, entitled "Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research on Teaching," Handbook of Research on Teaching, is among the most cited works in psychology. Another of his well known works, "Convergent and Discriminant Validation by the Multitrait-Multimethod Matrix" (1959), was for several decades the most cited paper published in the Psychological Bulletin. Campbell also consistently argued for applying social science methods to social change, most notably in his article "Reforms as Experiments," (1969).

Campbell's abiding interest was in the study of knowledge: how it was acquired, processed, and eventually lost. Campbell's unifying theory of knowledge was what he termed "evolutionary epistemology," comparing it Darwin's theory of the evolution, suggesting that scientific theories evolve according to the process of selection. He argued in his paper "The Fish Scale Model of Omniscience" that a full and complete understanding of any issue could only be achieved by examining it from different academic perspectives (footnote 2).

Campbell married Lola Sheaff in 1942 and the couple had two children, Martin and Thomas. They divorced in 1979. Campbell married the anthropologist Barbara Frankel in 1983.

Campbell's work has been examined in several books. These include Leonard Bickman (ed.) Donald Campbell's Legacy (2000), Cecilia Heyes and David L. Hull (ed.) Selection Theory and Social Construction (2001). There are also three festschrifts: William Dunn (ed.) The Experimenting Society: Essays in Honor of Donald T. Campbell (1997), Marilynn B. Brewer and Barry E. Collins (eds.) Scientific Inquiry and the Social Sciences: A Volume in Honor of Donald T. Campbell (1981) and Yvette Bartholomee, Society as a Laboratory: Donald T. Campbell and the History of Social Experimentation (2004).

Author: Michael Szajewski and Robert Carlton
Footnote 1:

Footnote 2: Campbell, D. T. (1969) "Ethnocentrism of Disciplines and the Fish-Scale Model of Omniscience." M. Sherif, & C. W. Sherif (Eds.), Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences, Aldine Publishing Company, Chicago, pp. 328-348.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Donald T. Campbell (1919-1996) Papers, 1928-2006

Identifier: 11/3/23/8
Abstract In 1953 Donald Campbell becamse associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University, advancing to full professor in 1958. He left Northwestern in 1979 to take up a position at Syracuse University. His papers document the principal activities of Campbell's life and his career as a professor of psychology whose research focused on scientific inquiry, which he explored in methodological treatises on field research and research design. The bulk of the collection dates between 1947 and...
Dates: 1928 - 2006; Majority of material found within 1947 - 1996