Harvard says it has removed human skin from the binding of a 19th-century book World News

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Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Photo: Bloomberg)

Harvard University said it has removed human skin from the binding of a 19th-century book about life after death that has been in its collection since the 1930s. The decision came after a review that found ethical concerns with the book’s origins and history.

The book, Des destinies de l’Ame, meaning Destinies of the Soul, was written by Arsène Houssay, a French novelist and poet in the early 1880s. The printed text was given to a physician, Ludovic Bouland, who bound the book with skin taken without consent from the body of a deceased female patient at the hospital where he worked, Harvard said in a recent statement. . University’s Houghton Library.

Bowland included a handwritten note inside the book. Thomas Hyre, an associate university librarian, said in a question-and-answer segment published online Wednesday that a book about the human soul deserves a humane cover. The note also details the process behind preparing the skin for binding.

The university said that scientific analysis conducted in 2014 confirmed that the binding was made of human skin.



In its statement, Harvard said the library noted several ways in which its management practices failed to meet its ethical standards.

Harvard stated that until relatively recently, the library has made the book available to anyone who asks for it, regardless of their reason for wishing to consult it. Library information shows that decades ago, students employed to archive pages in Houghton’s stacks were asked to retrieve the book without being told that it contained human remains.

When testing confirmed the book was bound to human skin, the university said in its statement, “The Library published the post on the Houghton blog, which used a sensationalist, morbid, and humorous tone, which drew similar international media coverage. Promoted.”

The removed skin is now in secure storage at Harvard Library, Houghton Library associate librarian Anne-Marie Eze said in a question-and-answer session.

The library said it would conduct additional research on the book, Bowland and the unnamed female patient. It is also working with French authorities to determine a final dignified disposition.”

Harvard said the removal of the skin was prompted by a library review following a Harvard University report on human remains in its museum collection, released in 2022.

Harvard’s statement said that the Harvard Library and Harvard Museums Collections Returns Committee has concluded that due to the morally fraught nature of the book’s origins and subsequent history, the human remains used in the book’s binding are no longer in the Harvard Library. Not in collection.

(Only the headline and image in this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

first published: 30 March 2024 | 11:35 pm Is

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