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Hallo again to all.

If you start to reflect on the nature of Anglican tradition, whatever might be your reason for such reflection, you will quickly reach the limit of your first-hand knowledge. There are many tens of thousands of Anglican churches around the world, and we've never met anyone who has attended a worship service in more than a few hundred of them. We know entirely too many people who have never attended a worship service in any church but their own.

However, if you attend worship service in a church, you don't so much learn its traditions as you learn its propers. Tradition is the way it was, not necessarily the way it is. Tradition is history.

So how do you learn Anglican history? For centuries, the only answer was to locate a library with a good collection of historical church documents and find a way to get access to it and then prowl its holdings. There aren't a lot of libraries in the world with good collections of historical church documents, and if you did find one of them, they probably didn't grant access to visitors.

So, back in the early days of the internet, in the era when you searched the web with Alta Vista using Netscape, a college student in New York understood the value of an online repository and started building one. One paper document at a time, he scanned and formatted and stored. He called it Project Canterbury, and in its earliest days he stored his repository on the university's student computers. Nobody took the time to explain to him that this was a mad plan, so he kept going. The same year he started Project Canterbury, other groups started various other websites including a few that you might remember such as Blogger, LiveJournal, Brainshark, and thousands that fell by the wayside and vanished.

Word got out, and soon a few other like-minded people started making contributions. Project Canterbury gradually gained substance. The same organization that sponsors Anglicans Online (the Society of Archbishop Justus) began hosting Project Canterbury at its ragtag California data centre. In 2005 Project Canterbury got its own domain, Project Canterbury (known to its friends and relatives as PC) describes itself as 'a free online archive of out-of-print Anglican texts and related modern documents'. Primary source material, unadorned with commentary or opinion.

Since Project Canterbury's vaults contain documents such as 'Arthur Cleveland Coxe, SECOND BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK. + MEMORIAL SERMON BY THE RIGHT REV. WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, D.D., LL.D., BISHOP OF ALBANY, S. Paul’s Church, Buffalo, October 5, 1896' it has always been evident that Project Canterbury is in no danger of launching a commercial startup or being acquired by Google or Microsoft or Cisco*.

Slowly, quietly, and relentlessly Project Canterbury has grown. Slow and steady wins the race, except that there is no race: there is nothing else like it anywhere. Today we took a census of PC, and found that it contains:

  • 10633 web pages, each a document or a chapter of a large document
  • 4000 pictures
  • 818 PDF documents
  • 15 MIDI files

Because a web page can be printed with varying margins and in different font sizes, it's hard to say just how many printed pages this content represents, but just for fun we used an obscure feature of Adobe Acrobat Professional to turn those web pages into PDF pages, counted them, added the page counts from the 818 PDF documents and the 4000 pages of pictures to get an approximate total of 120,000 pages of original source documents stored in Project Canterbury. Its 1300 megabytes of primary source material is now resident on a state-of-the-art server computer with error-correcting memory and dual power supplies. The technicians at SoAJ tell us that there were 400,000 PC site visits last month.

We'd exclaim 'Tell your friends about Project Canterbury at', but everyone in the small community of church historians already knows about it and refers to it constantly. We started at the top of the page asking about how one learns about church tradition and history. Spend some time browsing the astonishing collection that is Project Canterbury and you'll begin to get an idea.

Nota bene: Here at Anglicans Online our editorial staff take turns writing this front page, in rotation. We are blessed to have the Founder and Director of Project Canterbury as a member of that editorial staff. Today was not his day to write. He would never be boastful about the amazing project that he's worked on for nearly half of his life, but we hope that he is as proud of it as the rest of us are.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

11 August 2013

*We note with a wry smile that a few years after was established, some speculator bought the name and has been offering to sell that domain name to Project Canterbury for US$749 ever since. In 2010 an anonymous not-in-communion group bought and has operated at that address an 'Anglican History Blog' that writes point-of-view essays about Anglican history.

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