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Memoirs and Official Histories

The commissioning of historical accounts and the production of illustrated copies of them is a feature of several Islamic dynasties. However, peculiar to the Mughals is their sustained interest in doing so and the fact that two emperors wrote their own memoirs (Babur’s Baburnama, or Book of Babur, and Jahangir’s Jahangirnama), providing us with an unprecedented personal view of a ruler’s life. Accounts of the reigns of Akbar and Shah Jahan were also written (the Akbarnama and the Padshahnama, respectively), but unlike those of Babur and Jahangir each is an official court history written for, not by, the emperor.

The Mughals’ development of portraiture and their penchant for compiling albums of portraits and other images of the people, animals and events around them was clearly a development of their keen interest in recording, in both personal memoirs and official court histories, descriptions of the physical entities and political events of the world in which they lived.