Historical black book with faded gold trim made out of serial killer William Burke's skin

Episode 61: Anthropodermic Bibliopegy Part 2

Emily and Chris continue to navigate the sordid world of books bound in human skin.

Content warnings for this episode:

  • Corpse violation
  • Medical ethics violations
  • Abuse of power
  • Objectifying the human body
  • Worms
  • Murder and Mutilation
  • Racism & Colonialism
  • The French
  • The British
  • …and swears of course

In part two of our series on anthropodermic bibliopegy, aka, binding books in human skin, we discuss why anyone would ever think this is a good idea. From the guillotines of the French Revolution, to the postmortem dissections of murder victims in Edinburgh, to racist propaganda promoting Manifest Destiny, there’s always been mythmaking around books bound in human skin. We talk about the mystique around these books in Western culture and why such useful rumors had these objects at their center. Then, of course, it’s time to get into the big, sticky moral question—once one of these books is confirmed to be human, what should be done with it?

But to look in order to know, to show in order to teach, is not this a tacit form of violence, all the more abusive for its silence, upon a sick body that demands to be comforted, not displayed? — Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic

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