Postcolonial Afghanistan: From the Great Game to the War on Terror

Module code: EN3161 

Often besieged by its powerful political neighbours, Afghanistan has inspired a steady stream of English-language accounts by anthropologists, travel writers, military personnel and journalists. An identifiably British tradition of travel writing emerged around the time of the First Anglo-Afghan war (1839-42), which ended in a disastrous retreat when 16,000 of British India’s troops perished alongside their wives and children. Situating Afghanistan in its colonial and (post)colonial contexts, from the ‘Great Game’ era to the War on Terror, this module will explore the legacy of Victorian paranoia and prejudices to 20th and 21st century travel writing, ethnography and journalism. This module will also consider the significance of genre to (post)colonial travel writing and ethnography about Afghanistan. Referring to key theoretical debates about the ethics of travel, the module focuses on three issues: travel writing’s lowly status, the ‘crisis in ethnography’ and the counter-influence of classical ethnography on travel writing by war correspondents. Attending closely to specific travel narratives, you will have the chance to assess the extent to which there has been an ‘ethical turn’ in recent writing about Afghanistan. Can recent accounts be considered as ‘postcolonial’? Correspondingly, we will examine some experimental travel writing about Afghanistan and discuss whether it may be considered as an antidote to embedded journalism.


  • 20 hours of seminars
  • 130 hours of guided independent study


  • Essay (80%)
  • Language exercises (20%)