This article offers a historical perspective on reading as a situated activity through an examination of the medieval devotional practice of reading the book of hours. My historical investigation opens with an analysis of key pedagogical treatises and religious essays popular in the Middle Ages, which provided instruction on reading, its sensori-motor enactment, its interpretive procedures, and its ultimate goal. These texts, which portray reading not as a self-contained and intrinsically motivating activity but rather as a necessary component of a broader spiritual project, offer precious clues about how medieval readers approached the reading activity, the ways they engaged with the book, and their expectations pertaining to the scope of the reading practice. In the second part of the article, the focus turns to the book of hours. We will leaf through folios of these devotional manuscripts and examine their format, semiotic configuration, and textual and visual content. This analysis will show how textual and illustrational features of the book of hours reflect and foster the ideology and practice of reading as meditative and prayerful activity.
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