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  • Harvard’s library removed a human skin binding from a book in its collection.
  • The book has been in Harvard’s library since 1934.
  • The book is said to be bound with the skin of a deceased psychiatric patient.

Harvard‘s library said the human skin binding on one of its books was finally removed after nearly a century.

The copy of the French book “Des destinées de l’âme” was bound with skin taken from the dead body of a female patient at a psychiatric hospital, according to a Q&A.

The book will remain in the library’s possession, but the “ethically fraught nature of the book’s origins and subsequent history” led Harvard to remove the skin, the university’s Houghton Library said on its website.

The statement said the library is in contact with both university and French authorities to determine a “final respectful disposition” of the remains.


Per Harvard, the book’s first owner, Dr. Ludovic Bouland, acquired the skin as a medical student and bound the book himself. In a note tucked in the book, Bouland wrote that “a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering.”

The book was placed in the Houghton Library in 1934, and, per librarian Anne-Marie Eze, students working at the library may have used the book for hazing rituals.

The library confirmed that the book was bound by human skin in 2014.

“The core problem with the volume’s creation was a doctor who didn’t see a whole person in front of him and carried out an odious act of removing a piece of skin from a deceased patient, almost certainly without consent, and used it in a book binding that has been handled by many for more than a century,” Harvard librarian Tom Hyry said in the Q&A.

Harvard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.