Harvard University apologizes for keeping human skin-bound book

Harvard University, one of the most respected institutions in the United States, made an apology for having a French book from the 1880s, bound with human skin, in its library for nearly a century. 

The university confirmed the removal of the human skin from the binding of Arsène Houssaye’s book, expressing regret for the lack of ethical standards in its historical practices.

The library administration at Harvard’s Houghton Library, the oldest university library in the country, released a statement on Thursday addressing the issue. They acknowledged the issue of using human remains to bind a book and extended apologies to those who were upset by this discovery.

Arsène Houssaye, a prominent French writer and collector, wrote the book, which explores themes of life after death. The book came into Harvard’s possession in 1934, gifted by a former student from the early twentieth century.

Harvard University apologizes for keeping human skin-bound book


It wasn’t until 2014, following scientific testing, that the university discovered the book’s awful binding.

According to historical records, the book was bound with human skin by Ludovic Poulain, a doctor and book fan, who obtained the skin from a patient without consent. The patient, who suffered from psychological disorders and passed away suddenly, did not know the procedure.

Harvard’s acknowledgment of its past practices extends beyond this incident. A recent inventory conducted in 2022 revealed over 20000 human remains in its collections, shedding light on its historical involvement in slavery and colonialism dating back to the seventeenth century. The university apologized as it continues its commitment to confronting its past and upholding ethical standards in its academic pursuits.

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