Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Many individuals involved in parapsychology today are not well read on the past literature of their field. Some are newcomers while others are not interested in historical studies but in conducting research on the phenomena and speculating about their importance. Nonetheless there are many benefits that current workers may obtain from the old literature. This includes a better understanding of the reason for and development of theories, methodologies, and controversies, the social factors that have influenced the field, and the persons involved in its development, including researchers, facilitators, mediums and psychics. In addition, the past literature of the field (somewhat different from its history), is particularly useful to develop hypothesis for research, not to mention putting current results in the context of previous findings and ideas.

Because this literature is not generally within the purview of parapsychologists, and others, I would like to present here some reading suggestions to help current workers in the field find information about the work of previous generations. These consist of various secondary sources that will be of help to locate the important primary literature of the field. Due to my interests in the field I will focus on information sources about developments between the late 19th century and the 1930s.


A good way to start is to check some of the old overviews of psychical research, which summarize much about research findings, theories, and controversies. Some examples are William Barrett’s (1911) Psychical Research (New York: Holt), Hereward Carrington’s (1930) The Story of Psychic Science (London; Rider), A.C. Holms’ (1927) The Facts of Psychic Science and Philosophy Collated and Discussed (Jamaica, NY: Occult Press), Frank Podmore’s (1897)  Studies in Psychical Research (London: G.P. Putnam’s), Charles Richet’s (1922) Traité de Métapsychique (Paris: Félix Alcan; and the English translation of the

Barrett Psychical Research

Holms The Facts of Psychic Science

Podmore Studies in Psychical Research 2

second edition, (1923) Thirty Years of Psychical Research. New York: Macmillan), Emilio Servadio’s (1930) La Ricerca Psichica ([Psychical Research]. Rome: Cremonese); and René Sudre’s (1926) Introduction à la Métapsychique Humaine (Paris: Payot, 1926; and a later revised edition, Treatise on Parapsychology (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960, original work published in French 1956). 

Richet Traite de metapsychique 4

Sudre Introduction 4
An informative reference source is Fanny Moser’s (1935) treatise Der okkultismus: Tauschungen und Tatsachen (Occultism: Deception and Fact. 2 vols. Munich: Von Ernst Reinhardt). The book opens with discussions about positive and negative views about psychic phenomena, and some early investigations (e.g., the work of the London Dialectical Society, William Crookes, Cesare Lombroso, and the Society for Psychical Research). It also has a section about deception and facts in which Moser has chapters about the subconscious mind, sleep and dreams, and other psychological topics. Furthermore, this work has chapters about telepathy, clairvoyance, physical mediumship, and animal magnetism.

Moser Okkultismus

Also useful are book chapters such as  Harvey J. Irwin and Caroline Watt’s (2007) “Origins of Parapsychological Research” (An Introduction to Parapsychology (5th ed.) Jefferson, NC: McFarland) and Nancy L. Zingrone and Carlos S. Alvarado’s (2016) “A Brief History of Psi Research” (In E.C May & S.B. Marwaha (Eds.), Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science: Vol. 1: History, Controversy, and Research (pp. 35-79). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger).

For years I have been publishing articles covering aspects of the old psychical research literature. Some of them include:

(1987). (Second author, with N.L. Zingrone). (1987). Historical aspects of parapsychological terminology. Journal of Parapsychology, 51, 49‑74.

(1989). ESP displacement effects: A review of pre-1940 concepts and qualitative observations. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 83, 227‑239.

(2001). (first author, with E. Coly, L. Coly, and N.L. Zingrone). Fifty years of supporting parapsychology: The Parapsychology Foundation (1951-2001). International Journal of Parapsychology, 12, 1-26.

(2009). Early and modern developments in the psychological approach to out-of-body experiences. In C. D. Murray (Ed.), Psychological Scientific Perspectives on Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences (pp. 1-22). New York: Nova Science.

(2012). Dream ESP studies before Maimonides: An overview, 1880s-1950s.  Aquém e Além do Cerebro: Behind and Beyond the Brain (pp. 77-101). Porto, Portugal: Fundação Bial.

(2012). Psychic phenomena and the mind-body problem: Historical notes on a neglected conceptual tradition. In A. Moreira-Almeida and F.Santos (Eds.), Exploring frontiers of the mind-brain relationship (pp. 35-51). New York: Springer.

 (2013). Mediumship and psychical research. In C. Moreman (Ed.), The Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and Around the World (Vol. 2, pp. 127-144). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

(2014). Mediumship, psychical research, dissociation, and the powers of the subconscious mind. Journal of Parapsychology, 78, 98–114.

(2014). Classic Text No. 98: ‘Visions of the Dying,’ by James H. Hyslop (1907). History of Psychiatry, 25, 237-252.

(2016). Psychic phenomena and the brain hemispheres: Some Nineteenth-Century publications. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 30, 559–585.

Many authors have published articles about other topics. A few examples are:

Evrard, R. (2017). Institut Métapsychique International. Psi Encyclopedia.

Evrard, R., & Rabeyron, T. (2012). Les psychanalystes et le transfert de pensée:Enjeux historiques et actuelles [Psychoanalysts and thought-transference: Historical and current issues]. L’Evolution Psychiatrique, 77, 589-598.

Gissurarson, L. R., & Haraldsson, E. (2001). History of parapsychology in Iceland. International Journal of Parapsychology, 12, 29-51.

Hacking, I. (1988). Telepathy: Origins of randomisation in experimental design. Isis, 79, 427-451.

Hunter, J. (2015). Anthropology and Psi Research. Psi Encyclopedia.

Machado, F.R. and Zangari, W., (2017). Psi Research in Brazil. Psi Encyclopedia

Matlock, J.G. (2017). Reincarnation Accounts Pre-1900. Psi Encyclopedia.

Nisbet, B. (1973). Table turning: A brief historical note mainly for the period 1848-1853. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 47, 96-106.

Parra, A. (1995). Parapsychology in Argentina: Brief history and future possibilities.
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. 60, 214-228.

Rhine, J. B. (1977). History of experimental studies. In B. B. Wolman (Ed.), Handbook of
Parapsychology (pp. 25-47). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Rhine, L. E. (1971). The establishment of basic concepts and terminology in parapsychology. Journal of Parapsychology, 35, 34–56.

Rogo, D.S. (1988). Experimental parapsychology before 1900. Parapsychology Review, 19(4), 11-16.

Stokes, D. M. (2002). A history of the relationship between statistics and parapsychology. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 96, 15-73.

Other topics will be covered in later comments.

*Most of the information presented here appeared first in Alvarado, C.S. (2016-2017). The history of parapsychology: A brief bibliography. Mindfield, 8(3), 105-109;  9(1), 14-17. Mindfield is the bulletin of the Parapsychologicl Association.