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The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded in 1882 by a group of leading thinkers. The six initial areas of study were Thought-Transference, Mesmerism, Mediumship, Reichenbach Phenomena (Also known as Odic Force), Apparitions and Haunted Houses, and Séances. The stated aim of the society was ‘to approach these varied problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated.’  A Literary Committee was also established to study historical accounts of these phenomena.

Initially the SPR focussed on investigating, exposing, and reproducing fake psychic effects. Inspired by the scientific method, the SPR created a methodological and administrative system for the investigation of paranormal phenomena, and founded a journal, the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research which is published quarterly, and supplemented with occasional Proceedings.  It is notable that investigations were approached with an open mind and on many occasions the investigators stated that they believed the psychic activity was genuine.

Early members included psychologist Edmund Gurney, poet, classicist and philologist Frederic W.H. Myers (who coined the term ‘telepathy’), philosopher and economist Henry Sidgwick, physicist William Fletcher Barret and journalist Edmund Dawson Rogers.  During the early 20th century other prominent members were Sir Oliver Lodge and Arthur Conan Doyle. The escapologist Harry Houdini also had links to the Society due to his interest in exposing fraudulent mediums.

The Society is still in existence and is run by a president and a Council of twenty members.

Further information about the Society’s history and work can be found on their website.

The collection consists of the correspondence and papers of many individuals associated with the Society, including Oliver Lodge, Arthur Conan Doyle and William Crookes.  There are also detailed records of investigations of various phenomena and individuals, providing an extraordinary and fascinating insight into alleged psychic activity over many decades.