This introductory chapter considers the scope of the history of thinking about genius. It first traces the etymology and definitions of the word “genius.” Etymologically and culturally speaking, the term is hugely overdetermined while remaining strangely underspecified in its actual applications. The chapter explores the ambiguities of the term, before outlining the history of such a discourse on genius in Europe. This history has been extensively documented and explored in ways that lend credence to the view that genius is the topic of a single, pan-European conversation to which the French, the English, and the Germans are the major contributors over the course of the eighteenth century.
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