Harvard removes human skin binding from 19th century book

Harvard removes human skin binding from 19th century book

The Harvard Library announced Wednesday it removed a human skin binding from a 19th century book that has been in the building for decades.

“Des Destinées de l’Ame,” a book written in the 1880s by Arsène Houssaye, has been held at the Houghton Library, and 10 years ago it was discovered to have a binding made of human skin.

The library decided it was time to replace the binding and lay the remains to rest after considerations by experts and relevant stakeholders.

The binding is believed to have come from the book’s first owner, Ludovic Bouland, a French physician who wrote a note saying “a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering.”

The doctor likely got the remains as a medical student from the hospital he worked in, and the remains are believed to have been taken from a deceased woman without consent, according to the library.

The library also apologized in the announcement for its previous handling of the book and its reaction to the initial confirmation that the book was bound with human remains.

According to “library lore,” the book had been the center of a hazing tactic at the school in the past. Students were told to retrieve the book, without being informed of the human skin binding it.

When the discovery was made in 2014, the library also published two “sensationalistic blog posts” with a “tone” that the institution “deeply regret[s].”

One of the announcements at that time said the discovery was “good news for fans of anthropodermic bibliopegy, bibliomaniacs and cannibals alike.”

“Harvard Library acknowledges past failures in its stewardship of the book that further objectified and compromised the dignity of the human being whose remains were used for its binding. We apologize to those adversely affected by these actions,” the library said.

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