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Boston area left with just one book bound in human skin after Harvard removes remains of woman's back from a book in its collection

The Crimson reports the university, after long and careful consideration of the sort only Harvard can mount after ten years of criticism, has "removed the human skin binding from a book held in Houghton Library and apologized for 'past failures in its stewardship of the book'."

The move leaves only the Boston Athenaeum as an owner of a skin-clad book (well, that we know of) - an autobiography by a 19th-century highwayman who directed two copies be clad in his tanned skin, one for his doctor at the Charlestown state prison and one for the one man who fought back during a robbery attempt.

Harvard's 19th-century book, Des destinées de l’ame ("On the Destiny of the Soul") was a gift from an alum, who collected things like that, as one did back in the early 1900s.

The book was by Arsène Houssaye, who sent a copy of his musings on the afterlife to a friend of his who was both a doctor and a bibliophile, and he had somebody use the skin from the back of a deceased psychiatric patient of his to bind his copy of the book, as was the fashion among book-loving doctors of the day, or as they called it: anthropodermic bibliopegy.

Harvard is now looking at whether it can identify the woman and "determine a final respectful disposition of these human remains," according to a statement.

In addition to removing the cover, Harvard also deleted a couple of decade-old blog posts by its library staff about the book that described it in what the Crimson called "gleefully dark terms."

Of course, on the Internet, nothing ever really dies, so both posts remain online via the Internet Wayback Machine, one a post by the staff at the Houghton Library, the other a post from the Harvard Law School library, which describes some "Baaaaaad news for fans of anthropodermic bibliopegy," that a book there long thought to be also covered in human skin were actually covered in sheepskin.

Harvard's statement on its book.

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Comments

What in the hell is up with Harvard? The news there just keeps getting weirder!

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27

Exploitation of the mentally ill by the entitled ignorami.

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26

Boston area left with just one book bound in human skin...

... THAT WE KNOW OF!

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47

is dustcovers in the wind.

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30

is dustcovers in the Widener.

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30

People should have the option to have their flesh be used for crafts once they die, should they explicitly give that approval. I'd be happy to have my skin turned into a book, couch cushion, etc once I'm dead.

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25

To be used in a model trainset.

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19

The issue here is that the woman this skin came from did not consent.

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16

It's available online - complete with a photo of the skin cover.

H/t Jessica Dello Russo.

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11

I prefer my books uncircumcised.

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13

Or because their collection of human skin bound books was not diverse enough?
Don't snicker, this is Harvard.

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26

That comment is extra dumb.

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19

Your opinion of my comment isn't really important to me.

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14

what kind of skin Harvard's copy of "The Necronomicon" is bound in.

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My bet, the skin was from a Black woman or possibly an immigrant. Would love to see the outcome of their research on that.