The establishment of British colonialism in nineteenth-century India cannot be separated from European projects that surveyed and classified the objects, peoples and practices of the subcontinent. Indian and European curiosity about the architectural monument took on a special significance at this time as historic buildings were seen as purveyors of ‘factual’ historical information. European agents, however, saw themselves as the sole authors and interlocutors of such modern and objective histories, marginalizing Indian knowledge as unscientific and fanciful. Yet Indians as well as Europeans mutually constituted the production of knowledge during this time, relying heavily on material culture to interpret the past. This article is based on the Aar-us-anādīd (Traces of Noblemen, 1st ed. 1847), a 600-page comprehensive survey of Delhi’s monuments written in Urdu by the Indian intellectual Syed Ahmad Khan. By examining the visual, chronological and comparative methodologies used in the Aar-us-anādīd, this article argues that Syed Ahmad created a thoroughly modern archive of Delhi’s historic architecture. In doing so, he both shaped the conceptual category of an architectural monument and heavily influenced later European articulations of the same.