Born in a Presbyterian mission hospital on the Navajo Reservation, Nicolas Shumway was raised in St. Johns, Arizona, a small farming and ranching community in the northeastern corner of the state. His father owned a garage and tire shop, and his mother taught grade-school music. His first name—Nicolas without an “h”—follows the French spelling which his mother got from a popular violin method book written by a Frenchman, Nicolas Laoureux.
Graduating with highest honors, Shumway received his BA degree from BYU in 1969 with majors in Music and Spanish and a minor in French. He completed his MA in 1971 and PhD in 1976 at UCLA with concentrations in Hispanic literature and linguistics. After receiving his doctorate, he taught at Pepperdine University, Indiana University Northwest, Yale University and the University of Texas at Austin. At Yale he chaired the Latin American Studies program for three years and directed the Spanish language program for eight. In 1987, he received tenure at Yale and was promoted to Full Professor in 1992. After fourteen years at Yale, he accepted in 1993 an appointment at the University of Texas at Austin as the Tomás Rivera Regents Professor of Spanish. Two years later he became director of the UT Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, a position he held for eleven years. From 2008 to 2010, he served as Chair of the UT Department of Spanish and Portuguese. In July of 2010, he became Dean of Humanities and the Frances Moody Newman Professor of Humanities at Rice University.
His scholarship explores Latin-American history and culture with particular emphasis on Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. He has also written on advocacy and politics in the foreign-language classroom, and on ideologies of Hispanism. His best known book, The Invention of Argentina, was selected by The New York Times as “a notable book of the year” and received Honorable Mention for the Bryce Wood Book Award of the Latin American Studies Association. An extensive revision of the book appeared in Spanish in 2005. The University of São Paulo Press published a Portuguese translation in 2009. The book is currently available in three languages. His most recent book, Historia personal de una pasion argentina, was published in 2011.
Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Shumway has held visiting appointments at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil and at two Argentine universities, the Universidad de San Andrés and the Universidad Torcuato di Tella, both in Buenos Aires. Shumway has received two Fulbright appointments, one as a Researcher/Teacher in Brazil and another as a Senior Specialist in American Studies. A popular speaker, he has lectured at universities throughout the Americas and Europe and has been featured several times by the Houston World Affairs Council and the Houston Forum.
Throughout his thirty-seven-year career, he has gained wide recognition as a leader in international studies and foreign-language education. Prominent in professional circles, he has served on the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association, the world’s largest professional organization in the humanities.