Harvard Library Removes Human Skin Cover From Book, Citing Issue With ‘Consent’

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Ilan Hulkower Contributor
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Harvard Library removed a special copy of a book Wednesday in it’s Houghton Library that has been in their collection since 1934 whose binding was made out of human skin.

Harvard Library’s decision was motivated by the recommendations of a university steering committee that concluded that, “due to the ethically fraught nature of the book’s origins and subsequent history,” it should be removed from the collection, a statement by the library read. (RELATED: Library Book Returned After Almost 100 Years)

The book that was removed was Des destinées de l’âme (The Destiny of Souls) written by the French writer Arsène Houssaye, the statement read. The library elected to remove the human skin cover from the book, Anne-Marie Eze, a Harvard librarian, told Harvard Library Communications, according to a press release.

“The human remains removed from Des destinées de l’âme are currently in secure storage at Harvard Library while we carry out deeper provenance and biographical research related to the book and the woman whose skin was used in the binding. The library is consulting with appropriate authorities at the University and in France to determine an appropriate and respectful way of laying the remains to rest,” Eze added.

Dr. Ludovic Bouland, a “French physician and bibliophile,” made a special copy of the book by binding it with the skin “of a deceased female patient” from the hospital that employed him at the time, Harvard Library said in its statement. Dr. Bouland did this macabre task “without consent” from the patient in question, the statement added.

Bouland explained his controversial decision to use human remains in a note placed inside that said “a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering,” Tom Hyry, a librarian and archivist at the Harvard Library, told Harvard Library Communications.

“Library lore also suggests that decades ago, students … were hazed by being asked to retrieve the book without being told it included human remains,” Eze told Harvard Library Communications.

The book was formally donated to Harvard Library in 1954, the library said in its statement. The library scientifically confirmed that human skin made up the cover of the book in 2014, according to another statement.