About the History Guild

The Warraqeen

A guild is an association of people of the same trade or pursuits (with a similar skill or craft), formed to protect mutual interests and maintain standards of workmanship and ethical conduct. Historically guilds were formed as mutual benefit societies or small business associations. A guild was a trade union of sorts, since each crafter was a self-employed individual artisan or part of a small craft shop or co-operative. Guilds exist in modern and medieval incarnations. A historian's view of guilds tends to be colored by one's view of political economy, since the whole history of trade, technology, intellectual property, regulated professions, social security, and professional ethics are entwined with the history of the guilds in Europe.

Regulated professions were a feature of the ancient and classical world. The Code of Hammurabi specified a death penalty for builders, or masons, whose buildings fell on the inhabitants. Hammurabi himself had been a stonemason, so this could be considered an early example of self-regulation. The Hippocratic Oath applies to this day as the basis of the modern physicians' ethical code. All known legal codes include some limits on the practices or powers of jurists, e.g. the Rules of Civil Procedure, or politicians, e.g. the rules of parliamentary debate. It has generally been recognized that those in a position of special knowledge or trust were to be held accountable to the public for their advice and services.

Islamic civilization extended this to a degree to the artisan as well - most notably to the warraqeen , "those who work with paper". Early Muslims were heavily engaged in translating and absorbing all ilm ("knowledge") from all other known civilizations, "as far as China". Critically analyzing, accepting, rejecting, improving and codifying knowledge from other cultures became a key activity, and a knowledge industry as presently understood began to evolve. By the beginning of the 9th century, paper had become the standard medium of written communication, and most warraqeen were engaged in paper-making, book-selling, and taking the dictation of authors, to whom they were obliged to pay royalties on works, and who had final discretion on the contents. As the standard means of presentation of a new work was its public dictation in the mosque or madrassah, in front of many scholars and students, a high degree of professional respect was required to ensure that other warraqeen did not simply make and sell copies, or that authors did not lose faith in the warraqeen or this system of publication. The organization of the warraqeen was in effect an early guild.

This publication industry that spanned the Muslim empire from the first works under this system in 874 to the 15th century, gave rise to all concerns a modern intellectual property lawyer would recognize: by means of the tens of thousands of books per year so published, instructional capital from one group of artisans admired for their work could be spread to other artisans elsewhere who could copy it and perhaps "pass it off" as the original, exploiting the social capital built up at great expense by the originators of techniques. Artisans began to take various measure to protect their proprietary interests, restrict access to techniques, materials, and to markets.

--Master Artisan