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Society for Psychical Research (1882-)

 Organization

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.

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.

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. The Literary Committee of the society published Phantasams of the Living in 1886, one of the seminal works in the analysis of paranormal events.

In a series of publications at about this time the SPR revealed the fraudulent nature of many so-called mediums, and also organised fake séance's; where members would give sittings under an assumed name, and then illustrate afterwards to the sitters how they had been deceived and how various effects had been produced. This approach alienated some Spiritualist members of the Society, and after the exposure of the medium William Hope as a fraud, Society member Arthur Conan Doyle lead a mass resignation of eighty four members.

The SPR began to interpret the phenomena of mediumship in terms of psychokinesis and telepathy, rather than adhering to the Spiritualist belief that these effects were caused by the communication with the spirits of the deceased.

Over the years, several notable members of the Society for Psychical Research have expressed the opinion that there is no evidence for paranormal activity. Member Simeon Edmunds' 1966 book Spiritualism: A Critical Survey concluded that the majority of mediums investigated proved to be fraudulent. After 50 years of investigation, Tony Cornell concluded that almost all paranormal happenings can be explained by fraud, misidentification, pranks or subconscious products of the human mind. Cornell concluded that only twenty percent of the eight hundred cases he investigated were at all difficult to explain, and that only a handful were thoroughly inexplicable. Eric Dingwall resigned his membership and concluded 'After sixty years' experience and personal acquaintance with most of the leading parapsychologists of that period I do not think I could name half a dozen whom I would call objective students who honestly wished to discover the truth.' In 2001 Dr Susan Blackmore wrote an essay entitled 'Why I have given up', where she outlined her disillusionment with the field of psychical research. She concluded 'The recent resurgence of funding for parapsychology means there are several new labs and many new researchers at work. If psi does exist then one day one of them will find a way to demonstrate it and a theory to explain it. If that happens I shall be back like a shot, but until then, happily, I have given up.'

The Society continues undeterred. It is run by a president and a Council of twenty members and members of the public are eligible for membership. It has a headquarters in Kensington, and Cambridge University Library holds its extensive archives.

Found in 10 Collections and/or Records:

 Sub-Series

Administration, c.1871-1995

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/99/1
Scope and Contents Minute books, attendance records, and general indexes
Dates: c.1871-1995
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Sub-Series

Cases, c.1877-2010

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/99/5
Scope and Contents General cases, committee cases, and associated newspaper cuttings
Dates: c.1877-2010
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Sub-Series

Committees, c.1890-1982

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/99/2
Scope and Contents Committee notebooks and indexes
Dates: c.1890-1982
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Sub-Series

Conferences, 1953-1990

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/99/7
Scope and Contents Material relating to conferences held by or of interest to the SPR. Included are organisational material as well as copies of papers presented.
Dates: 1953-1990
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Sub-Series

Correspondence, 1876-1990

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/99/6
Scope and Contents General, committee, and subject correspondence including journal supplements, proceedings, and personal letters
Dates: 1876-1990
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Sub-Series

Financial, c.1882-1988

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/99/3
Scope and Contents Financial ledgers; petty cash, research funds, and misc.
Dates: c.1882-1988
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Series

Maurice Grosse: Papers, Correspondence, and Photographs, 1855-2005

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/83
Scope and Contents From the Fonds: The collection includes papers of individuals involved in psychical research, collections of papers relating to specific cases of paranormal activity, papers relating to the administration of the Society and also research and medium files. The collections include correspondence, notes, diagrams, drawings, photographs, newspaper articles and printed pamphlets.

Held on deposit from the Society for Psychical Research since 1990.
Dates: 1855-2005
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Sub-Series

Photographs, c.1861-1981

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/99/4
Scope and Contents Various collections of photographs including portrait albums and loose photographs
Dates: c.1861-1981
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Fonds

Society for Psychical Research archive

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR
Scope and Contents The collection includes papers of individuals involved in psychical research, collections of papers relating to specific cases of paranormal activity, papers relating to the administration of the Society and also research and medium files. The collections include correspondence, notes, diagrams, drawings, photographs, newspaper articles and printed pamphlets.

Held on deposit from the Society for Psychical Research since 1990.
Dates: 1749-1998
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).
 Series

SPR Administration: Minute and Account Books, Cases, and Photographs, c.1861-2010

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS SPR/99
Scope and Contents Contains minute books, financial records, various indexes, and correspondence at the administration and committee levels of the Society of Psychical Research. Also included are newspaper cuttings, photographs, and case reports.
Dates: c.1861-2010
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact mss@lib.cam.ac.uk. Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (www.lib.cam.ac.uk).

The UK Archival Thesaurus has been integrated with our catalogue, thanks to Kings College London and the AIM25 project for their support with this.