A book bound with human skin from dead woman's corpse finally removed from Harvard library

Apparently, in the 1800s, it wasn't unheard of for books to be bound in human skin. And Harvard University still had one such book in its library — until its decision to remove it this month.

Harvard's copy of the 19th century book, Des destinées de l'âme by Arsène Houssaye, has a morbid history. According to a Harvard Library statement, the book, published in 1879, was first owned by Dr. Ludovic Bouland, a French doctor who took skin off of a dead patient "without consent" while working at a hospital. He then used her skin to bind the book.

Harvard received the book in in 1934, and for a while, those in the know would "haze" Harvard student library employees by asking them to "retrieve the book without being told it included human remains."

But it wasn't until 2014 that the university "publicly confirmed that the binding was made from human skin," according to ABC News. And Harvard admits that, even after acknowledging the book's binding material, "anyone who asked for it, regardless of their reason for wishing to consult it," could still have access to it. Until this month.

From ABC News:

The book's premise is a reflection on the soul and life after death, and a handwritten note by Bouland inserted into the volume states that "a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering," according to the University.

However, Paul Needham, a prominent scholar of early modern books and Harvard alumni, told ABC News the decision follows a consistent, 10-year call to remove the binding and an open letter he co-authored that was published as an advertisement in The Harvard Crimson this month.

"I first raised the question with the library almost 10 years ago, in June 2014. And I requested they should have the human skin respectfully removed and given a decent burial," Needham said. "I think that the open letter is what finally moved them really to take action and make a statement because until yesterday we have not gotten the university to say a single word about binding in almost 10 years." …

The human binding was removed from "Des destinées de l'âme" in March and is currently in secure storage at the Harvard Library, according to Eze, who noted, "The library is consulting with appropriate authorities at the University and in France to determine an appropriate and respectful way of laying the remains to rest."