Harvard Library Removes Human Skin From Book Binding

  • Harvard University has announced that it has removed human skin from the binding of a 19th-century book kept in its library since the 1930s. Sky News
  • According to Harvard, physician Ludovic Bouland "bound the book ["Des Destinées de L'âme" by Arsène Houssaye] with skin he took without consent from the body of a deceased female patient in a hospital where he worked." Associated Press (LR: 3 CP: 5)
  • A handwritten note by Bouland inside the book states that "a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering." NBC (LR: 2 CP: 4)
  • On Wednesday, Harvard said that the human remains used in the book's binding were no longer in the library "due to the ethically fraught nature of the book's origins and subsequent history." Harvard Library
  • In addition, the library is conducting research to determine the identity of the anonymous patient and ensure that "the human remains will be given a respectful disposition that seeks to restore dignity to the woman whose skin was used." BBC News (LR: 3 CP: 5)
  • The practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the binding of books in human skin, has been documented since the 16th century, and was common practice among doctors with access to cadavers for dissection in the 19th century. BBC News (LR: 3 CP: 5)

Pro-establishment narrative:

  • Removing the human skin binding of this book is a necessary ethical step to restoring the dignity of the unknown woman whose skin had been taken without consent. The book has repeatedly been sensationalized for its binding, with the remains of this unknown woman being continuously disrespected. It's high time that the identity of the individual is researched and her remains returned to be placed to rest in her native France.
    GUARDIAN (LR: 2 CP: 5)

Establishment-critical narrative:

  • While there should be some ethical considerations when displaying artifacts that contain human remains, the fact that the practice has existed for centuries should also be respected. As long as the book was treated with appropriate significance, and neither the government of France nor the unidentified woman's family objected, the human skin-bound book should have been allowed to exist in its unaltered state. While morbid, this historical artifact shouldn't have been damaged just to satiate modern-day sensitivities.
@HubertManne@kbin.social avatar

I find this kind of thing stupid. They are all dead and its just a historical artifact at this point that has been ruined with no actual positive effect to the person whos body was misused.

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