Google Books now makes it possible to download pdf’s of public domain works, like this copy of our namesake Notes and Queries on Anthropology (1899). Alas, the text — which Google must have a plain-text version of in order to do keyword searching — seems not to be embedded in the pdf file. Here, to the best of my typing ability, is a little taste of “Notes and Queries” to whet your appetite:
It is almost impossible to make a savage in the lower stages of culture understand why the questions are asked, and from the limited range of his vocabulary or of ideas it is often nearly as difficult to put the question before him in such a way as he can comprehend it. The result often is that from timidity, or the desire to please, or from weariness of the questioning, he will give an answer that he thinks will satisfy the inquirer. If time serve, these difficulties can easily be overcome by friendly intercourse, and a careful checking of answers through different individuals (87 – 88).
Needless to say, this work is of historical interest more than practical interest. Still, it’s good to see this history preserved and available; I also downloaded a copy of Franz Boas’ The Mind of Primitive Man (1911), which is of rather more interest to me.
There is no “master list” of downloadable texts, or search flag that will return only results that have pdf’s attached. The trick is to click the “Full View Books” radio button under the search form, and then hope. In “Advanced Book Search”, you can set a date range — I’d think that limiting the publication date to years before 1925 would be a good idea, as current copyright law only covers back to 1926 or so. But, of course, there is public domain work published after 1926 — anything published by the US government, for example — and there is still some material that was published earlier that may not be public domain (e.g. works in translation, where the rights are/were held by various parties and now nobody’s quite sure who owns what).
Imagine if we had some sort of reasonable copyright laws — we could access much more recent scholarly work, most of which is locked up in the storerooms of university libraries where nobody will ever see it.