Harvard Decides To Keep the Book and Scrap the Human Skin Cover

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Hensley Carrasco / shutterstock.com
Hensley Carrasco / shutterstock.com

Both museums and colleges take seriously the responsibility of keeping the treasures of the past safe and well-preserved for people to study in the future. Even when things were hurtful, shocking, or now illegal, these intellectuals would do everything they could to keep these artifacts safe and properly preserved. Harvard University and the Harvard Library took that charge seriously. Yet now, one book had to undergo a major change.

“Des Destinées de l’Ame” was penned in the 1880s by Arsène Houssaye. Harvard’s Houston Library had the book for years, and ten years ago, it was discovered that the binding was done with human skin. It is believed to have been crafted by the original owner, Ludovic Bouland, a French physician who loved the book. Inside it, he had written, “A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering.”

According to experts, it is likely he took the skin from a woman’s corpse without permission from the woman herself or her family. When they announced their decision, the library apologized for previously not addressing their findings and for how they treated the book. It sounded like they were more worried about feelings than accurate history.

Then again, with legend claiming students would “haze” freshmen by telling them to go and fetch the book. Done without telling them what it was bound with, you can see how some could be upset. When it was found to be human skin, Harvard had announced it as “good news for fans of anthropodermic bibliopegy, bibliomaniacs and cannibals alike.”