By Storm Stoker, Technical Services Support Specialist
Originally published on the WSR Blog
On a dark and chilly December evening in Edinburgh, Scotland, I visited the Surgeons’ Hall Museums and found it deserted. I was looking in a glass case that held a pocketbook that stated it was “bound with William Burke’s skin.” William Burke and William Hare were a couple of entrepreneurial resurrection men in Victorian Edinburgh. They decided grave robbing to sell bodies to doctors was too much work, simply murdering someone and selling their corpse saved them all that digging. It is estimated they killed at least 16 people before they were caught. Hare turned state’s evidence on Burke who was hanged (1/28/1829) in front of a huge crowd of 25,000, his corpse was then publicly dissected and his skeleton displayed at the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh Medical School where, you can still visit it today. His skin apparently was used to bind this gruesome souvenir. This strange visit to the museum is what led me to do more research on the topic. Why was this done and was this common?
According to some scholars, the earliest known anthropodermic book was a French Bible from the 13th century but most proven examples are from the late 16th through the 18th century. But WHY would anyone do such a macabre thing?
There were several reasons:
The Anthropodermic Book Project (ABP) is a project that hopes to create a census of all the anthropodermic bibliopegy and test them to confirm that they are in fact bound in human skin. Esteemed scientist from the fields of forensic anthropology, medical librarianship, and chemistry are working to verify whether books claiming to be bound in human skin actually are. So far their tally runs as follows:
There are many libraries that have anthropodermic bibliopegy, in addition to those mentioned above. For a current full list of confirmed skin books click here.
Finally, what are the ethics around keeping these books in a library or museum? Are these books considered human remains, if so how should the remains be dealt with? Do modern medical guidelines apply? While the Society of American Archivists and other professional associations have no approved policies for dealing with human remains of this type, the library field is committed to working on best practices for handling sensitive materials like anthropodermic books. No one has all the answers yet, it will likely be an evolving issue for many years to come.
I totally understand if some of you want to stick with your e-readers!
Resources and Further Reading
Anthropodermic Bibliopegy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropodermic_bibliopegy
Association of College and Research Librarians. “Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians,” RBMS—Rare Books & Manuscripts Section, October 2003, available online at http://rbms.info/standards/code_of_ethics/
Davis, Simon. Let’s Talk About Binding Books with Human Skin. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/exm3bk/binding-books-with-human-skin-135
Fleischaker, Julia. Books Bound in Human Skin Are More Common Than You Think.” Mobylives. https://www.mhpbooks.com/books-bound-in-human-skin-are-more-common-than-you-think/
Gordon, Jacob. “In the Flesh? Anthropodermic Bibliopegy Verification and Its Implications.” RBM, https://rbm.acrl.org/index.php/rbm/article/view/9664
Schuessler, Jennifer. Harvard Confirms Book Is Bound in Human Skin. https://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/05/harvard-confirms-book-is-bound-in-human-skin/
Society of American Archivists “Code of Ethics for Archivists,” SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics, (revised 2012), available online at http://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics#code_of_ethics
Thuras, Dylan. Boston Athenaeum Skin Book. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/boston-athenaeum-skin-book
The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, School of Law Library has some great new programming! We have a Book Hospital program where trained book doctors repair books for law students for free and help to preserve books in the collection, including historic books. We created a comic strip advertising the book hospital, in the overly dramatic style of popular TV shows like Grey's Anatomy and E.R. You can see the full episode here.
We also just started offering workshops teaching the community how to make repairs to books and how to make notebooks. So far the workshops fill to capacity within 24 hours, and we even had to turn a few eager book lovers away!
Ellen-Rae Cachola, Evening Supervisor and Archives Manager, and Storm Stoker, Technical Services Support Specialist, wrote a grant proposal for additional archival supplies to continue these workshops and preservation initiatives. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s, Women’s Campus Club awarded the School of Law Library a grant for $2,000.
Check out these great photos from our recent programming and feel free to try it at your own library!
Published in WestPac News
At the William S. Richardson School of law Library I work as a trained book doctor. Bring your damaged and hurt books to the library and have them treated.
Enjoy our comic giving you a glimpse into a day in the life of a book doctor.
April 25, 2019 By Storm Stoker
Did you know that book makers were BIG into recycling? With the invention of the printing press in 1440, manuscripts were soon viewed as unfashionable and were cut up and used to reinforce the spines and covers of new-fangled books.
At the UH Mānoa School of Law Library we have a few examples of books that used discarded pages of other books or discarded misprints of the same book in their bindings. You would not even know this interesting secret exists unless the book got damaged, revealing what was under the spine or inside the book’s cover. Here are two examples we found in our collection:
What else has been found this way? Medieval illuminated manuscripts (painted using gold leaf illustrated with small paintings), in particular sheets of music, have been cut up and used to bind books in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some bookbinders would use these illuminated manuscript pieces in decorative ways as the paste downs, or inside covers of books. A 15th century Irish translation of Ibn Sīna (an ancient physician’s medical manuscript) was trimmed and folded and used to cover a Latin book printed in London in 1530. Before this discovery, no one knew that his work had been translated into Irish. A fragment of the Arthurian legend from the 13th century was recently found, revealing new details about how this story evolved over time.
The Smithsonian is working on a technique to X-Ray old books so they can see the fragments of other texts without actually taking the bindings apart. The X-Rays pick up the metals in medieval iron gall ink and can read the text, even on several different layers within the cover or spine. The discoveries that could be made with this new technology is exciting. Perhaps there is an additional, hidden library of information within your library.
Further reading A Footnotes
 Flood, A. (2019, March 07). Surprise as unknown Irish translation of Ibn Sīna discovered in spine of book. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/mar/07/surprise-as-unknown-irish-translation-of-ibn-sina-discovered-in-spine-of-book (Accessed 4/24/19).
 Al-Samarrai, N. (2019, February 01). Found: A 13th-Century Tale of Merlin and Arthur, Reused as Bookbinding. Retrieved from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/rare-merlin-manuscript-found (Accessed 4/24/19).
 Daley, J. (2016, June 06). X-Rays Reveal “Hidden Library” on the Spines of Early Books. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/x-rays-reveal-hidden-library-spines-early-books-180959317/ (Accessed 4/24/19).
December 18, 2017 By Storm Stoker, Technical Services Support Specialist
ATALM Program BookThe Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums (ATALM) annual conference is the largest of its kind dedicated to professionals who work to support, protect, and preserve indigenous cultural heritage through their work in libraries, museums, language programs, and historical preservation centers. This was the tenth time this conference was held and over 800 people attended the 2017 conference, with 276 nations and 50 tribal nations represented. The Conference was held in Bernalillo, New Mexico at the Santa Ana Pueblo-owned Tamaya Hyatt Regency. The theme was Native Strong: Sustaining Culture in Challenging Times. I have attended the conference three times and presented twice.
Sessions at the conferences range from the correct way to display Navajo blankets to creating oral history projects, but all of the sessions have a few valuable and universal themes interlaced into their content: Context, do no harm, and respect.
Theme 1: Context
Where does the artifact come from? Knowing this may also help to determine its care. For example, artifacts made of feathers can be affected by dust, debris, and pests. A feather’s original context was that it was attached to a bird that flew through the wind in the sun. One technique for cleaning feathers in artifacts is to let a gentle wind blow through it outside in the sun (not too long to avoid color bleaching). This is a gentle way to remove dust and discourage pests. Many sessions suggested ways to return context to pieces without negatively affecting their condition. This can often be accomplished with technology. For example, I gave a presentation at ATALM in 2016 that taught participants how to build special effects using augmented reality technology to add context to artifacts, create meaningful tours, and add digital information to marketing materials, documents, and books. My 2017 talk was on fake news and determining good resources by understanding that the context can influence the way a news story is presented. For example, news organizations that have supporting interests in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) being built would refer to those trying to stop the construction as “rioters”. Those news organizations that were neutral, or did not support the construction referred to the dissenters as “protestors” or “water protectors”. Knowing who owns what news organization, and what they are invested in is important to understand, because it can bias their reporting. Leading patrons to unbiased resources is a cornerstone in the LAM fields.
Theme 2: Do No Harm
Ms. Stoker at ATALM ’17Some workshops had experts preserving baskets and pottery, their aim was not always to reconstruct but to simply preserve the original artifact and to protect it from further damage or deterioration. In many cases pottery and other artifacts are not reassembled but when they are, special archival glue is used. The glue can be dissolved with acetone in the future if needed so the original artifact or document is not compromised. A major tenant of archival treatment in the current literature, is that every action taken towards an artifact should be reversible. In the past, repairs have sometimes ruined artifacts or destroyed contextual evidence. Aggressive repairs now could lead to harsh criticisms from future conservators who will judge what we do now against whatever technology and expertise they will acquire through innovation.
Theme 3: Respect
Protocols for indigenous resources were developed to help augment laws that have been passed pertaining to the rights of indigenous people to their own knowledge. Many of the laws, acts, and treaties passed in the U.S. are difficult to enforce or inadequate in the protection of cultural resources. Professional organizations like the American Library Association (ALA) and the Society of American Archivist (SAA) work to create policies that will demonstrate a commitment to indigenous cultural knowledge and protocols, while also staying within the boundaries of U.S. law, which emphasizes equal access and intellectual freedom.
Some of the issues protocols attempt to address include:[i]
Mr. Echo-HawkThe Master of Ceremonies, Walter Echo-Hawk, has been the Board Chair of ATALM since 2010. He has the impressive distinction of being the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Kickapoo Tribe; of Counsel, Crowe & Dunlevy, Oklahoma’s oldest and largest law firm; and Adjunct Professor at Tulsa University School of Law (2010). He was a staff attorney, from 1973–2008, for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), where he represented Native Hawaiians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives on legal issues federal Indian law. As a lawyer, tribal judge, scholar, author, and activist, his cases have involved Native American religious freedom, prisoner rights, water rights, treaty rights, and reburial\repatriation rights. He is admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court, Colorado Supreme Court, Oklahoma Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Eighth, Ninth, District of Columbia, and Tenth Circuits, and a host of federal District Courts. He is the Founding Chairman of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Board of Directors. At the conference he gave the seminar “Taking Stock, and Marching to Justice” where he discussed the developments over the past ten years since the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted. He explained the present-day usage of the Declaration and its continued implementation.[iii] Mr. Echo-Hawk is a member of the Pawnee Nation. He received a political science degree from Oklahoma State University (1970) and his law degree from the University of New Mexico (1973). He is the author of In the Courts of the Conqueror: The Ten Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided (2010) and, more recently, In the Light of Justice (2013). He is now the 2018 UH Mānoa Dan and Maggie Inouye Chair in Democratic Ideals with the William S. Richardson School of Law.
The goal of ATALM is to serve the needs of those who work to protect and advance cultural sovereignty and I can think of no better example of someone who does this than Mr. Echo-Hawk. I was privileged to participate in three of the wonderful conferences he has chaired, and I am thrilled that he is here in Hawaiʻi to once again share his manaʻo with us.