In 1882 a group of eminent scientists, many of them Cambridge men, with a shared interest in proving the existence of ghosts, spirits and psychic phenomena convened to form the Society for Psychical Research. Influenced by the growing interest in paranormal activities, which had been partly fuelled by the rise of spiritualism, they wanted to use science to investigate the claim that spirits of the dead could return to make contact with the living.
Initially their investigations involved attending séances and meeting mediums. They also collected evidence from witnesses to paranormal activities and events. In the twentieth century photography was used in an attempt to capture images of spirit forms, while various types of electrical equipment were devised to test for evidence of telekinesis and telepathy.
The Society is still in existence today and deposited its archive and rare books with the University Library in 1989. It includes correspondence, reports, photographs, administrative documents and also a number of objects collected over the years during the search for scientific proof of life after death.