The Harvard Library removed the human skin binding from a 19th-century book.

The Harvard Library removed the human skin binding from a 19th-century book.


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The Harvard Library has removed human skin from the cover of Arsene Husseyer’s book Des destinies de l’âme, published in the 1880s.

The cover of the book, which has been stored in Houghton’s library for more than 90 years, will be replaced due to “difficult ethical origins”. declared on the library website.

The author of the book gave it to his friend, French doctor and bibliophile Ludovic Buland. And he covered the book with skin, which he removed without permission from the body of a dead patient in the hospital.

The book has been in the funds of the Harvard Library since 1934. The copy was first deposited by the American diplomat, businessman and Harvard graduate John Stetson, Jr., and in 1954 his widow, Ruby, finally transferred it to the Houghton Library.

The library revised its book disposal policies following the Fall 2022 Report of the Harvard University Steering Committee on Human Remains in Museum Collections.

“After careful study, stakeholder engagement, and discussion, the Harvard Library and the Harvard Museum Collections Return Committee have concluded that the human remains used in the book’s binding no longer belong in the Harvard Library’s collections due to the ethical complexity of the book’s provenance and subsequent history,” – said the workers.

Back in 2014, scientific analysis confirmed that the book was bound with human skin. However, at that time the library did not take seriously the problematic nature of such binding, for which it has now apologized.

“The Harvard Library acknowledges past mistakes that further objectified and compromised the dignity of the person whose remains were used for the binding. We apologize to those affected by these actions.”the statement says.

The Harvard library admitted that its “management practices did not meet the level of ethical standards” it adheres to.

Now the institution is investigating the origin and biographical data of the deceased, whose skin was used by the first owner of the book.

“I have preserved this piece of human skin taken from a woman’s back. A book about the human soul deserves a human cover.” – wrote the first owner of the copy.

We will remind you that earlier Harvard created a resource that collected research on the history of Ukraine.


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