The Rare Book, Manuscript, nd Special Collections Library preserves many items related to the British Empire in the nineteenth century. One example is the elaborate color-plate book by James Rattray titled Scenery, Inhabitants, and Costumes of Afghanistan.
Rattray, a lieutenant in the British Bengal Army, recorded his experiences and produced sketches during the first Anglo-Afghan War, which lasted from 1839 to 1842. Published after the war, the text and illustrations are autobiographical and recount many of the positive and negative aspects of a campaign that was ultimately unsuccessful. There are accounts and depictions of individual battles, Afghan cities, local people and customs, geographic features, and tribal soldiers.
The work was published by the London firm of Hering and Remington and contains thirty plates, lithographed in a variety of colors and then substantially enhanced with hand-painted accents. Hering and Remington specialized in publishing narratives and images from travelers and returning British soldiers, and advertised that those "intending to publish their Works … may rely upon their Sketches, whether good or bad, being produced in the best artistic taste."
Dramatic tales of battles, fashionable women, and exotic places reflected the great popular demand for images and accounts of the Eastern reaches of the empire. The accounts of travel to an Islamic land and descriptions of its architecture, culture, and dress would have reflected the widespread Orientalist interest in Islamic culture. Although this was a deluxe publication and was expensive when it was published, the text and images were designed to appeal to a popular Victorian audience.
Scenery, Inhabitants, and Costumes of Afghanistan
Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
January 31, 2008