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Understanding the Removal of Human Skin Binding from 1880s Book – What You Need to Know

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Last Updated on March 29, 2024 by Robert C. Hoopes

Harvard Library Removes Book Bound in Human Skin from 1880s Collection

Harvard University’s prestigious library has made headlines recently after removing a book from its collection that was bound in human skin. The book in question, Arsène Houssaye’s “Des destinées de l’âme,” dates back to the 1880s and has been a part of the university’s collection since 1934.

The decision to remove the book came after a report in 2022 by the Harvard University Steering Committee on the use of human remains in university museum collections. It was discovered that the human skin used to bind the book belonged to a deceased female patient at the hospital where French physician Dr. Ludovic Bouland worked.

The book was donated to the Harvard Library by American diplomat and businessman John B. Stetson, Jr. in 1954. The university confirmed the use of human remains in the book’s binding back in 2014 and has since been working on addressing human remains in its collections as part of a long-term project.

In a statement, Harvard Library has apologized for past failures in the stewardship of the book and is committed to moving forward with care, sensitivity, and ethical responsibility. Bouland, who bound the book in human skin, left a handwritten note inside the book stating that “a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering.”

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The removal of the book has sparked discussions about ethical considerations in preserving historical artifacts and the treatment of human remains in museum collections. Harvard University’s handling of this situation will likely have a lasting impact on how other institutions address similar issues in the future.

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Dina J. Miller is an accomplished writer and editor with a passion for business and education. With over a decade of experience in the industry, she has established herself as a leading voice in the MBA community. Her work can be found in a variety of MBA magazines and college publications, where she provides insightful commentary on current trends and issues in the field. Dina's expertise in business and education stems from her extensive academic background. She holds a Master's degree in Business Administration from a top-tier business school, where she excelled in her studies and developed a deep understanding of the complexities of the business world. Her academic achievements have been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including induction into several prestigious academic societies.

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