Providing resources and trai­ning in the practices and tools of the digital humanities

Return to the Material Conference

Recently digital humanities discussions have returned to a focus on the material in many senses. Bethany Nowviskie’s talk at MLA 2013—“Resistance in the Materials” —explored various facets of the material aspects of digital humanities, including the role of craft and collaboration, the “increasing casualization of academic labor," and the emergence of digital-to-physical technologies. We will explore these and related topics in this year's conference with the theme "Return to the Material."

Date: Saturday, September 14, 2013
Location: Alderson Auditorium, 4th floor, Kansas Union
Tentative schedule, subject to change.

Morning coffee, tea and refreshments

9:00 - 9:30
Dis/Assembling Schizophrenia on YouTube: Theorizing Analog Bodies in a Virtual Sphere

Erica Fletcher, University of Texas Medical Branch, Institute for the Medical Humanities


As visual technologies become increasingly ubiquitous and networked, server websites such as YouTube provide a space to share vlogs (video blogs) online, to suggest related videos for viewers, and to help in/form virtual communities, including communities of illness. Within this space, vlogs of schizophrenia have emerged in recent years and offer those who claim to suffer from this mental illness a forum to share their lifeworlds with others. This paper theorizes the metaphysics of “being” within this transitional, dialogical state of illness that unfolds through multiple (analog, digital, virtual, networked) spheres. Using the example of a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia who extends her self-expression of illness online through YouTube, I will explore this articulation of unfolding through Brian Massumi’s theorization of affect, the analog, and the digital. Furthermore, I will use Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri’s theorization of rhizomes and assemblages to describe the social networks that are formed through shared experiences of illness and posit ways in which vlogs speak back to the analog body, affect a body’s way of being in the world and push back at static, categorical definitions of schizophrenia. In this manner, my incorporation of Massumi, Deleuze, and Guattari’s work seeks to reconfigure past binaries such as mind/body, subject/object, nature/culture, immanence/transcendence, and leads us towards a more vitalistic way of thinking about analog bodies in motion as bleeding, resonating, affective, deeply connected intensities. Through a new language of emergence, fields, incorporeal materiality, rhizomes, assemblages, planes, virtuality, and becomings, vlogs on YouTube may foster a creativity, experimentation, and inventiveness within Western knowledge that deeply transform the sciences’ and the humanities’ understandings of schizophrenia.

9:30 - 10:00
Reasserting Thing-Power: Roughness as a Response to Antimaterialism

Rachael Sullivan, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


Overwhelmingly, contemporary interface design principles aim for an experience of immateriality. As Bill Buxton, pioneering interface designer at Microsoft Research, recently told Ars Technica in an interview, “if you’re aware there’s a computer there, we’ve failed.” The fluid movement of fingers and the immediate responsiveness of a glowing screen envelopes users in effortless interaction with information. Drawing on software studies and neo-materialist theory, this presentation first shows that ease-of-use and user-friendliness as priorities enforce a misunderstanding of digital textuality and encourage composers (“writers” in classrooms, “content producers” on the social web) to look for and expect readymade composing surfaces. Many media and digital humanities scholars have interpreted this black-boxing of functionality as an ideological preference for immateriality and ephemerality in our writing technologies. As Matthew Kirschenbaum writes (2008), “Computers have been intentionally and deliberately engineered to produce the illusion of immateriality” (135). Such an illusion, which Matthew Fuller (2008) blames partly on rhetoric that enforces a caesura between the automaticity of computing contrasted with messier industrial or craft forms of production, “is ultimately trivializing and debilitating” (Fuller 4).

Turning to political philosopher Jane Bennett’s theory of materiality (2010), which she calls “thing-power,” the second half of my presentation argues that the dis-appearance of writing materials, encouraged by revenue-generating, smoothing innovations like Facebook’s “frictionless sharing” and Amazon’s “one-click buying,” is detrimental to inventive practice in new media. Writing technologies are not neutral and unproblematic bearers of language; a confrontation with thing-power means “acknowledgment, respect, and sometimes fear of the materiality of the thing [and the] ways in which human being and thinghood overlap” (Bennett 349). Stronger than rhetoric of immateriality, an “anti-materiality bias” (Bennett 350) actively devalues ways that computers shape what is possible in writing and how that writing happens between the electrical conductivity and movement of fingertips, sensitive surfaces, and increasingly complex layers of software and software developers. When antimaterialism moves from interface design to the digital humanities classroom or studio, lost is the rewarding encounter with the rough‑edged energy and difficulty of not only language, but also the stuff of composing.

10:00 - 10:30
'Insta-Book Freedom': Digitization and the Persistence of the Page

Derek Attig, University of Illinois
*(Best student paper submission. Mr. Attig will be recognized with an award at the conference.)


Large-scale digitization projects seem to free information from the prison of paper, from the tragic and old-fashioned constraints of the material. But that is a fantasy—how digital utopians wish the world was, not a description of the world as it actually is. Using the Internet Archive as a case study, this paper argues that the physical page and material book persist, with crucial effects, in digital repositories. As this paper shows, this persistence takes two forms, the first generalizable to many digitization projects and the second more peculiar to the ideological and practical underpinnings of the Archive.

First, a digitized book does not offer mere or immaterial ideas. Instead, the act of digitization makes visible and widely accessible the particular history of a particular copy of a book. Opening a book digitized in a repository like the Internet Archive, a viewer sees not disembodied thought but high resolution images of pulped wood and imprinted ink. (Or, in other modes, text pulled from those images, bearing artifacts of their form and layout.) And these images are created by physical machines and human labor. This is obvious, in some ways, but too often ignored even though it is absolutely vital to the whole project of digitization. As a close reading of a digitized book demonstrates in this paper, that project is a process which does not move in a straight line from material to digital but, rather, mediates a complex, recursive relationship between them.

Second, books that are digitized don’t always stay digital. Indeed, the Internet Archive’s program began with the express purpose of taking paper books, digitizing them, and then taking that digital information and, in Archive founder Brewster Kahle’s words, “turn[ing] it back into paper.” Perhaps surprisingly, the main tool used by Kahle and his collaborators to achieve this goal was an icon of old media infrastructures: a bookmobile. In the early 2000s, the Internet Archive Bookmobile traveled across the country (and, in a later iteration, to Uganda), teaching people how to print books from the Archive’s digitized collection on demand. This was somewhat peculiar to the Internet Archive’s founders and staff. But it illustrates the larger fact that, even into the twenty-first century, some of the most feverishly utopian Silicon Valleyites imagined unions of paper and flesh, as much as bits and bytes, when they dreamed of encounters between books and readers.

By focusing on digitization and digital repositories, this paper offers a materialist perspective on key tools and methods in the digital humanities. And, more broadly, by offering examinations of both the processes and ideologies of digitization, it illuminates an important imbrication of the digital and the material in the twenty-first century.

10:30 - 10:45
15 minute break

10:45 - 11:15
Laptop Music and Embodiment: Materializing the Ephemeral

Michelle Heffner Hayes, Kip Haaheim, Nicole Hodges-Persley, Sherry Tucker, University of Kansas


Embodied experiences of music and dance are difficult to describe, let alone preserve for the future. Every listener--those who play or dance and those who don't--experiences it differently. And when that embodied experience takes place across the digital divide, as diverse bodies differently respond shifting material conditions, perceptual response, and improvisatory navigation—what is the material and how do we share it? In this panel discussion, four KU faculty from the departments of American Studies, Dance, Music, and Theatre, will discuss the material and ephemeral findings of their work on improvisation utilizing a musical instrument download that responds to movement large and small, adapts to all bodies, and calls attention to the user’s experience of their body as they face the screen of a laptop, PC, or IPad. Music and dance are not disconnected in this practice built on body-triggered sound; instead this connection is heightened. In addition, dance need not configure a bodily ideal, but shapes bodies, incorporates all bodies, and constructs connections between people. Panelists will speak at the brink of a forthcoming multi-media performance (KU Commons, October date TBA 2013) that explores lines of performance/research, dis/ability, mobility/stasis, agency/eminence, and sounding/perceiving.

11:15 - 12:15
Keynote Talk: Fabrications, or How to Lie with Computer Vision

Jentery Sayers, University of Victoria


Since its initial role in artificial intelligence research during the early 1970s, computer vision --- defined, for the purposes of this talk, as the automated description and reconstruction of the physical world (including its subjects and objects) through algorithms --- has grown increasingly accessible to a wide variety of audiences through a broad range of consumer electronics. For instance, consider the number of cultural heritage projects relying extensively on optical character recognition. Or, in commonplace apps like iPhoto, note the use of face detection techniques for image description and searching. Elsewhere, web-based repositories such as Thingiverse are housing museum collections (e.g., at the Art Institute of Chicago) of 3D scans and print-on-demand models generated by both staff and patrons. And now Kinect hacks are practically ubiquitous on the web, with people regularly repurposing the sensor to create games, build DIY robots, and construct playful interfaces. Unpacking these phenomena across academic and popular domains, this talk highlights the need for digital humanities practitioners to not only engage how computer vision is embedded in our research but also explore how it actively transduces our materials, with an emphasis on the production of prototypes --- or "fabrications" --- that do not yet exist in the physical world. Here, the talk draws examples from recent research conducted by the Maker Lab in the Humanities at the University of Victoria, where --- through its "Z-Axis" research initiative --- practitioners are conducting experiments in stitching (i.e., translating 2D photos into 3D models), decimation (i.e., reducing the polygon count of models), and displacement (i.e., pushing and pulling the geometry of models to generate depth and detail) in order to articulate new-form arguments about literary and cultural histories. The Lab's Z-Axis methodologies develop existing digital humanities research in speculative computing (Drucker and Nowviskie), geospatial expression (Moretti), data visualization (Manovich), algorithmic criticism (Ramsay), and ruination (McGann, Sample, and Samuels) in order to: 1) build persuasive objects that, like written essays, function as scholarship, 2) explore the potential of 3D techniques, desktop fabrication, and critical making for humanities research, 3) open material culture and history to unique modes of perception and interpretation, and 4) resist quotidian assumptions that computer vision affords neutral, high-fidelity replicas of our lived, social realities. To "lie" with computer vision, then, is to tinker with its default settings and transductions, reconfigure them, and mobilize them toward novel and unanticipated forms of scholarly persuasion.

12:15 - 1:30
Lunch (on your own)

1:30 - 2:00 -Exhibits and Posters
The Florida Historical Quarterly: A macro-scale reading of the journal as a 3-D sculpture

David Staley, Ohio State University


I propose to exhibit a physical sculpture: a visualization of the entire 85-year run of the Florida Historical Quarterly. I identified the top one hundred key terms and arrayed each according to the number of times that term appears per year. The resulting pattern is a macro-scale reading of the historiographic "shape" of the journal. I’ve turned the visualization into physical sculpture through 3-D printing, a sculpture I propose to display throughout the entire run of the conference, to be viewed and commented upon at any time by conference participants. I would then hold a session discussing both the process by which I created the object and the rhetorical argument I am making about scholarly performance. "FHQ III" represents digital humanities praxis as art, and the digital humanist as "radical visualizer."

I wish to situate "FHQ III" as comparable to other "historical sculptures," such as Maya Lin’s "Vietnam Memorial" and the "Women’s Table" at Yale. I view historical sculpture both as a physical object that represents history and also as a rhetorical strategy, as a way to perceive historical information in a context outside of the traditional research paper, monograph or other text-based performance that are standard in our craft. The act of viewing "FHQ III" and the manner in which the audience interacts with the sculpture will be as much a part of its "argument" as is the information embodied in its form. "FHQ III" is an "object to think with."

Douglas Hofstadter defines "translation" as "the faithful transport of some abstract pattern from one medium to another medium." We usually apply the word translation to pattern mapping between two languages, but I see similar mappings occurring across different media. "FHQ III" should be understood as a transport of an abstract pattern from one medium (voluminous text) to another medium (material object).

I share the same impulse as Matthew Jockers, to "read" humanities texts at a macro-scale, to deemphasize a close reading of an individual text to instead "focus on the larger system," in this case, the historiographic "system" represented by the journal. Unlike Jockers, however, I seek a move away from digital humanities as science and analysis and toward digital humanities as art, aesthetics, and interpretation derived from visual perception. To effectively and realistically "read" large corpora as a humanist means that we must rely on visualizations, and we must see their beauty as a source of interpretive insight, not simply aesthetic adornment.

Visual patterns can in and of themselves result in interpretive insights. Stephen Ramsay’s "algorithmic criticism" relies on the generation of visual patterns as the product of these computer-enabled interpretive acts. Rather than being an intermediate step toward a written piece of scholarship--the preferred approach of humanists--the visualization itself becomes the hermeneutical/scholarly performance, the visualization is the hermeneutic object. Such a practice asserts "the primacy of pattern as the basic hermeneutical function [uniting] art, science, and criticism."

The Daedalus: A search-engine for visualizing semantic relationships
Sean Connolly, Indiana University


Close reading of text remains the primary tool of traditional scholarship in the humanities. On the one hand, large-scale computational analyses of textual corpora represents a break between the digital humanities and traditional scholarship. On the other hand, document search guided by large-scale analysis can enhance and support traditional methods.

We describe a novel search interface, the Daedalus (“the data list”), which doesn’t just return results, but, visualizes the semantic relationships underlying them. By returning not just the search results, the Daedalus offers even casual users a richer appreciation of the semantic space, both prompting and enabling more complicated textual queries. Real-time dynamic feedback occurs when users re-weight the value of meta-objects and features by moving them; this occurs in two ways: the search results automatically update, and, the visualization adjusts both the existence and location of other meta-objects and features. The shift from the discrete, symbolic notations of traditional Boolean search to visually represented operations and relations in a continuous frame exploits human propensities for spatial search, whose features are also characteristic of mental search.

In the Daedalus, the visualization space consists of a series of windows with one window for each domain in the data set. Features are represented in the domain windows by "bubbles" identified by descriptors (usually text) and other features (including shape, color, size and position) corresponding to other semantically relevant aspects. Interaction with the Daedalus program takes two forms. Words can be added through a text input field, or the impact of existing word nodes can be manipulated through use of the mouse. New words added through the text input field will be added with the highest strength, and thus be placed in the center of the window. When words are added or manipulated, the search results automatically update and the visualization dynamically adapts.

Relations between features in a given window are indicated by the relative locations of their bubbles within the visualization. Bubbles located toward the center of the window represent features that are more important to the search. Bubbles positioned closer together represent features that are similar. Color is used to differentiate computer-supplied features and human-modified ones. A visual overlay of lines between bubbles with varying thickness indicates similarity between objects and relative size of the bubble indicates importance of that feature to the query.

As part of the InPhO project, the Daedalus has been tested on data from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Daedalus represents each article as a meta-object using the introductory section as one domain and the rest of the article text as another domain. Using the Daedalus, users can rapidly identify which articles to read for combinations of concepts that they might not have considered unprompted. Overall, the Daedalus allows a quick and comprehensive overview of any digital humanities resource. Insights provided by this tool are often novel to the user but in retrospect, easily understood and intuitive within the context of the originating texts.

2:00 - 2:30
Making space on the workbench: The methodological implications of Computer Aided Design on art and design practice.

James Charlton, Aukland University of Technology


This paper explores the implications of integrating Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) system and processes with conventional fabrication practices in the context of contemporary art and design practice. It seeks to explore the constraints and affordances of these technologies and identify methodological challenges they present.

Once the domain of engineering and manufacturing companies CAD/CAM has made its way onto the workbench of artist and craftspeople to take a seemingly permanent place along side the array of conventional fabrication tools. Enabled by the maker community and DIY movement 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC machines are now no more expensive than table saws and MIG welders and have become standard workshop equipment in universities and tertiary institutions.1.

Drawing on specific examples of work by students and researchers at Colab - AUT Universities’ interdisciplinary research center procedural parallels and conflicts are identified and critiqued. The recent evolution of AUT’s Art and Design workshops into 3D labs that have embraced fused deposition modelling, laser cutting and CNC fabrication processes has raised fundamental question about the role of traditional processes and knowledge in art and design practices.

To a generation more conversant with CAM than with hands on fabrication techniques the significance of understanding material attributes and the acquisition of manual skills has been rendered almost redundant by the “print” command of the laser cutter and 3D printer. Rather than heralding a “dumbing down” of craftsmanship and a loss of tacit knowledge parallel to that which was seen in the industrial revolution (Lewis, 1996) it will be argued that the ubiquity of this technology and its uptake by the DIY community signals a resurgence of craft not tied to mass production (Anderson, 2012).

However while the freedom of virtual design and the fluidity of parametric modelling appear to democratise design it is in fact dictating design decisions and leading to a mannered aesthetic that is prescribed by embedded extrude/loft features CAD software. The paper will argue that such software determinism is fundamentally different form the affordances of other tools and is effectively arresting design intent and homogenising aesthetics.

Further to this having adopted interface metaphors such as “sketch” and “cut” CAD software’s ownership of this terminology has caused a methodological shift in established practices that fundamentally alters the way form is conceived of, resulting in a re-conceptualisation of physical procedural processes.

While online 3D print-on-demand services such as 3DrapidPrint and Shapeways are proliferating and promise to revolutionize production systems, greater understanding of methodological impact of CAD/CAM technologies on art and design practice is needed.

1. Up printers ship from US$1099 (!shop/ch1c) while carries CNC machines DIY instructions that can be made for as little as $20. See

Anderson, Chris (2012). Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Business.

Lewis, T. (1996). Studying the impact of technology on work and jobs. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 33(3), 44-65. Retrieved from


3DrapidPrint. Retrieved from

2:30 - 2:45
Afternoon break with refreshments

2:45 - 3:15
Putting Moses in The Matrix: Academic Biblical Studies in a “Post-Development” Digital World

Eric Welch, Penn State University


Despite its place as one of the oldest disciplines in the academy, the field of biblical studies has led the way in the adoption of digital avenues for scholarly analysis and the lay consumption of biblical texts. Beginning in the late 1970’s digital pioneers began the process of digitizing the text of the Bible. As texts in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew were digitized, grammatical data was organized in large databases that ultimately enabled complex and sophisticated searching of the biblical text. Three decades later the development of software for biblical research has grown into a small industry, the products of which are a foundational element of modern biblical scholarship.

This paper will demonstrate the ways in which the ubiquity of digital resources has facilitated a return to the material in the field of biblical studies. First, this paper explores the implications of conducting digital research in a field where a number of powerful digital tools already exist. Specifically this paper will illustrate how research in a “post-development” world has reinvigorated the scholarly exploration of the biblical text itself as an object of study. With the new dimensions of textual research afforded by digitization scholarly workflow is improved and research design is fundamentally changed, opening the door to questions never imaginable by scholars of the past.

Moving from the theoretical to the practical, this paper will then illustrate how software dramatically shortens the feedback loop in research, allowing for low risk experimentation with rapid results. As an example, the author will demonstrate how he recently used grammatically tagged primary sources, linked secondary sources, and graphic statistical feedback to analyze a poem in the book of Zephaniah for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The field of academic biblical studies offers a powerful long-term view of digital research in the humanities. There is little doubt that digital biblical research has flourished due to the large market for religious texts in digital form; however, the success of digital biblical scholarship has important implications for humanities research beyond the study of religion. The drawn out lifespan of digital analysis in biblical studies demonstrates the remarkable potential for scholarly innovation as a field moves from developing tools to employing them as a natural part of the research process. Even in a traditional field such as biblical studies, in which a finite corpus of texts has been subject to careful analysis for over 2,000 years, the return to the material in digital form is constantly producing new and exciting insights.

3:15 - 3:45
From Pulpit and Pew to Pixels: American Evangelicals and the Digital Body of Christ

Amber Stamper, Elizabeth City State University


The American evangelical church has historically existed as a material institution. As Great Awakening scholar Frank Lambert has argued, it was largely due to early revivalists’ eager efforts to mass print and distribute Bibles, tracts, spiritual autobiographies, and religious news-letters that the holy fervor of the movement spread so quickly throughout the colonies. In a frontier landscape where physical church buildings were often few and far between, new converts depended on material texts to provide spiritual education and sustenance as well as news of where preaching might be heard. Revivalists George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Lorenzo Dow, and Charles Finney were all committed to the production of such materials to both support and disseminate the revival spirit, an effort that has come to typify the evangelical movement.

In later manifestations, evangelicals have displayed their commitment to the material through persistent engagement with the commercial marketplace. To every popular secular media form, evangelicals have provided a sacred counterpart, consistently working to offer potential converts and committed followers tangible stuffs representative of their spiritual lives. One need only peruse the extensive Christian book section of a Barnes & Noble to see the faces of evangelical pastors Billy Graham, T.D. Jakes, or Joyce Meyers garnishing myriad dust jackets, and evangelical book publishers regularly produce novels promoting their movement’s worldview in every genre from Western to Sci-Fi to Chick Lit. Evangelical clothing companies like N.O.W. (Not of this World) and merchandise from the popular W.W.J.D. bracelets of the nineties to evangelistic bumper stickers, toys, and stamped candies continue to play a central role in the development and expression of the movement.

As evangelicals have migrated to the Internet, however, this commitment to the material has necessarily evolved. And as with all prior engagements with mass media, evangelicals have proved fascinatingly adaptable: from the formation of virtual churches to the creation of prayer apps, digital Bibles, and Twitter mini-tracts, the traditional material forms of the movement have taken their own, unique digital shapes. In my presentation, I will explore this transformation, focusing particularly on how the digital has changed, complicated, or challenged the movement and its material culture. Drawing on the work of rhetoricians and communications and media scholars from Marshall McLuhan to Gail Hawisher, Cynthia Selfe, and Anne Wysocki, I will work from the theory that the medium of a message’s transmission deeply matters. Using the case study of, an evangelical virtual church which corresponds to brick and mortar locations in Oklahoma, New York, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida, I will look at how material features of a traditional church have translated online. I will explore in particular how the church “space” is constructed, how the biblical text is transformed, how prayer and pastor-congregation interaction is enacted, and how conversion and conversion testimonies manifest and are documented in a digital world, attempting to—more broadly—apply these findings to questions of how the digital in myriad contexts—sacred or secular—might be said to transform material culture, ideology, and community.

3:45 - 4:15
Recreating Historical Materiality through Scientific Simulations of Light and Texture

James Coltrain, University of Nebraska


Upon first visiting a new city, tourists will often report that it feels different than they had imagined. The combination of perspective, light, texture, sound, and smell, combined with a viewer’s own understanding, gives a place a distinct atmosphere. Scholars interested in studying past places have often been interested in the materiality of objects and spaces, but lacked the means to effectively communicate their discoveries and arguments to readers. Now however, new advances in 3D technology are allowing researchers to simulate the materiality of historical places, not only through the 3D virtual architectural reconstructions already employed by many archaeologists and historians, but by scientifically simulating light and texture. My paper will use examples from my own work as a historian interested in architecture and material culture to show the present and future potential of using computer simulations to understand the materiality of historical spaces.

Scientifically simulating the play of light on a reconstructed historic place may be the most important method for recreating past material spaces. While architectural drawings or even a 3D reconstruction will give us a sense of space, lighting generates meanings about whether a site feels welcoming or intimidating, warm or cold, grand or dingy. Using advancements in software that are now possible on even a single personal computer, it is possible to scientifically simulate the illumination of an interior, mapping the paths and bounces of photons coming from the sun, a lit candle, or even a fluorescent light. These methods can simulate with reliable precision whether the halls cavernous cathedral were brilliant and ethereal or dim and subdued.

Working in concert with calculated light are computer simulations for the textures of a historical space, which can recreate the tangible experience of seeing real architecture and artifacts. With software that can reproduce the sparkle of glass mosaic or the gritty patina of coal dust, simulations can close the gap between imagined understandings of historic spaces and the seemingly innocuous details that communicate the material feel of a place.

Recent advancements are even making possible the realization of architectural materials that have before been too difficult to reconstruct, such as the refraction of light through thick blown glass, the weak shine of a worn potter’s glaze, and even the translucency of a vellum page or a freshly stamped clay tablet.

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