The MINERvA6experiment is designed to perform precision studies of neutrino-nucleus scattering usingνμand ν̄μneutrinos incident at 1-20 GeV in the NuMI beam at Fermilab. This article presents a detailed description of the MINERvA detector and describes the ex situ and in situ techniques employed to characterize the detector and monitor its performance. The detector is composed of a finely segmented scintillator-based inner tracking region surrounded by electromagnetic and hadronic sampling calorimetry. The upstream portion of the detector includes planes of graphite, iron and lead interleaved between tracking planes to facilitate the study of nuclear effects in neutrino interactions. Observations concerning the detector response over sustained periods of running are reported. The detector design and methods of operation have relevance to future neutrino experiments in which segmented scintillator tracking is utilized. © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.