I am planning on applying to History Phd programs, and while I would love to apply for to enter next academic year, I am worried about my writing sample. For my university's honors program, I wrote a thesis based on a treatise that was originally written in middle French. To be honest, I'm proud of the work I did. It demonstrates my proficiency with French, and I think it's an interesting topic.

However, since graduating, my interests have shifted from early modern France to the French colonization of Brazil. I took Portuguese as an undergraduate, as well as a few upper level seminars focusing on colonial Latin American history, but I am worried that I will not be able to demonstrate my proficiency with Portuguese unless I have a writing sample that uses a substantial amount of Portuguese sources.

So I guess my question is: how narrowly focused should writing samples be? Should they broadly demonstrate one's ability to conduct historical research, or should I try to potentially alter another paper and scrap my thesis?

Thank you guys so much in advance!


In my limited, but certainly present*, experience with history departments, your writing sample wont be used as a negative indication of language abilities. Your statement of interest and and language test/coursework proof will be noted, but if you have no Portuguese in your sample they are unlikely to notice. Your interests sound like a natural progression and they do not expect to see undergraduate work that directly relates to your proposed topic. If you're worried about it, sit a formal Portuguese test of some kind and report that on your cv.

*before grad school I was the secretary of a history department in the usa and managed admissions admin for it.

  • Thank you so much for your response! I'm going to speak with some of my professors, but if I get the greenlight from them, I think I'll go for it! Sep 28 '19 at 14:20
  • Good luck with the applications! Sep 28 '19 at 17:39

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