Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Delabarre, Edmund B.

Edmund Burke Delabarre (1863-1945), professor of psychology, was born in Dover, Maine, on September 25, 1863. He prepared for college at Mowry and Goff’s School in Providence and entered Brown in 1882. He left after his freshman year, as his family’s move to Conway, Massachusetts made it more practical for him to attend Amherst College, where he graduated in 1883. During the next six years, he studied in Berlin, at Harvard under William James, at Freiburg with Muensterberg, and at the Sorbonne with Binet. Appointed associate professor of psychology in 1891 and promoted to full professor in 1896, he was Brown’s first professor of that subject. In 1896-97 he was director of Harvard’s Psychological Laboratory during the absence of Professor Muensterberg. His work was described in the memorial minute of the Faculty in 1945:

“With a pioneer’s enthusiasm he at once established the Brown Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, twelfth of its kind in this country. The dissertation which he had offered for the doctorate at Freiburg was entitled ‘Über Bewegungsempfindungen,’ and for many years his principal work, apart from the regular teaching of classes, was the development and confirming of its basic doctrine that slight muscular movements, conscious or unconscious, were of fundamental importance in relation to the phenomena of consciousness. For this investigation he devised and put together a number of delicate instruments for the recording and measuring of such movements. Some of his experiments, especially those upon eye movements and upon the effects of small doses of powerful drugs such as Cannabis Indica, seemed to involve personal risk of a sort that invited rather sensational publicity. This annoyed him for he was a sincerely modest man who scorned such notoriety and was prompted only by eager desire to establish the factual basis of his theory and its utmost implications.”

He was one of the first to use ink blots to encourage mental imagery. He published accounts of his experiments in professional journals, and William James did him the honor of including one such note in his Principles of Psychology, attributing it to “My pupil and friend, E. B. Delabarre.” But he never completed his own book on his investigations, although he worked on it for years. It was said by a colleague that his passion for perfection could not be satisfied with it. The publication for which he was best known was the result of his interest in inscriptions on rocks. He bought a farm at Assonet Neck in Massachusetts for a summer home, not far from Dighton Rock with its mysterious markings which had been at various times attributed to Phoenicians, Egyptians, Vikings, and even the inhabitants of the lost Atlantis. The rock, at the edge of the Taunton River, was submerged by tides much of the time, but Delabarre managed to photograph it in different degrees of light until he was able to make out the date of 1511 which had been obscured by Indian markings of a later time. His investigations led to the the discovery of two Portugese brothers, Gaspar Cortereal, who explored the coast of Newfoundland in 1501 and did not return to Portugal, and his brother Miguel Cortereal, who set out the next year to search for him and also did not return. Further study of the photographs revealed a clear M followed by the less distinct letters IGU, and more letters from which he pieced together an inscription which read “Miguel Cortereal 1511 V Dei hic dux ind.” and translated this abbreviated Latin message, “by the will of God leader of the Indians.” This supported an Indian tradition recorded by Reverend John Danforth in 1680 that men from a strange land had come up the river at an earlier time and had slain their sachem. A shield-like marking on the rock was interpreted as the insignia of Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal. In 1929 Delabarre published a book, Dighton Rock, which described his interpretation and cited others. He was decorated by the Portugese government with the insignia of St. James of the Sword for his work. He also published Report of the Brown-Harvard Expedition to Nachvak, Labrador, in the Year 1900, an account of a journey he made in the company of Reginald A. Daly, instructor in geology at Harvard and four Harvard undergraduates, with observations of botany, ornithology, and geology in Labrador. Delabarre retired in 1932. He died in Providence on March 16, 1945.