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Harvard University removed human skin from the cover of the book

Harvard University removed human skin from the cover of the book

(Cambridge) Harvard University said it has removed human skin from the cover of a 19th-century bookH This decision came after a study revealed ethical issues surrounding the origin and history of the book.

the book Destinies of the soul It was written by Arsène Houssaye, a French writer, in the early 1880s. The printed text was given to physician Ludovic Boland, who “bound the book to the skin he had taken without consent from the corpse of a patient who had died in the hospital where he worked.” The book is kept in the university’s Houghton Library.

Mr. Boland included a handwritten note inside the book. “A book about the human spirit deserves to have a humanist cover,” Assistant University Librarian Thomas Heary said in a question-and-answer session posted online Wednesday. The memorandum also discussed the details of the process of preparing the skin for binding.

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

Harvard University said in its statement that the library found that its administrative practices did not meet its ethical standards in several aspects.

Photos of the Houghton Library, Harvard University, courtesy of AFP

the book Destinies of the soul

“Until relatively recently, the library made the book available to anyone who requested it, regardless of why they wanted to view it,” the university said. Library lore suggests that decades ago, students assigned to search the collections in the Houghton stacks would begin by being asked to retrieve the book without being told that it contained human remains. »

When tests confirmed the book was bound in human skin, the library “published articles on Houghton's blog that used a sensational, sick, and humorous tone that fueled similar international media coverage,” the library said in its press release.

The removed skin is “now stored securely in the Harvard Library,” Anne Marie Ease, assistant librarian at the Houghton Library, said during the question-and-answer session.

The library said it would conduct additional research into Mr Boland's book and the unidentified patient. It is also working with French authorities to define a “respectable final clause.”

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

“The Harvard Library and Harvard Museum Collections Return Committee have concluded that the human remains used in the book’s cover no longer belong to the Harvard Library collections, due to the ethically fraught nature of the book’s origins and subsequent history,” Harvard said. The statement said.

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