Human Skin Removed From What?!

( – What seemed to be a disturbing and disgusting search for some students has come to an end since a book housed at Harvard University’s library is no longer bound with human skin.

This decision was made recently, following a 2022 report, in accordance with the university’s efforts to repatriate human remains.

In an announcement, Harvard Library stated:

“Harvard Library has removed human skin from the binding of a copy of Arsène Houssaye’s book Des destinées de l’âme (1880s), held at Houghton Library. The volume’s first owner, French physician and bibliophile Dr. Ludovic Bouland (1839–1933), bound the book with skin he took without consent from the body of a deceased female patient in a hospital where he worked.”

The statement clarified, “[T]he book has been in the collections of Harvard Library since 1934, initially placed on deposit by John B. Stetson, Jr. (1884–1952), an American diplomat, businessman, and Harvard alumnus (AB 1906), and later through donation by his widow Ruby F. Stetson to Houghton Library in 1954.”

Likewise, the library acknowledged its failure to meet its ethical standards and addressed concerns regarding student employees who were not informed about the book’s contents when asked to retrieve it.

Furthermore, the library apologized for a 2014 blog post that adopted a sensationalistic and morbid tone, which garnered international media attention. Although a note left in the book hinted at the use of human skin in its binding, confirmation came only after testing in 2014.

The original owner, Bouland, reportedly wrote:

“This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering: I had kept this piece of human skin taken from the back of a woman.”

The book is now permanently unavailable for library users, with access restrictions implemented since 2015 and a complete research moratorium enforced since February 2023.

The library expressed regret for its past failures in handling the book and acknowledged the objectification and compromise of the dignity of the deceased individual whose remains were used.

Plans are underway to collaborate with French authorities to identify the woman whose skin was used for the book’s binding.

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