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Dr Aaron Rapport

Obituary of Dr Aaron Rapport, 1980 - 2019

Dr Aaron Rapport

Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies & Fellow of Corpus Christi College 


De mortuis nihil nisi bonum - say nothing but good of the dead - was the advice of the Romans. But in the case of our dear colleague Aaron Rapport, who died on 27 June after four years contending with cancer, there really are only good things to say. Aaron was an exceptional colleague in every respect, and a warm, admired and entertaining friend.

Aaron joined POLIS in 2013, after a stint at Georgia State University in Atlanta and a fellowship at Harvard. He was a Foreign Policy Analyst, approaching the subject through its connections with political psychology. If this makes him seem like a narrow specialist, then nothing could be further from the truth. Aaron had a compendious knowledge of International Relations in its historical, theoretical and contemporary manifestations. His reading was voracious and he was constantly open to new ideas and other people’s point of view. He was a meticulous scholar, whose book for Cornell University Press – Waging War, Planning Peace: U.S. Noncombat Operations and Major Wars – is an incisive comparative treatment of the way decision-makers are seduced by their rose-coloured spectacles when considering the likely long-term effects of their commitments to military intervention. The book displays, as in the range of articles he published in major journals, Aaron’s ability to combine theoretical and methodological rigour with historical sensitivity. He was particularly concerned with the changing nature of political judgements over time.

Not every top scholar possesses the ability to inspire students, especially those who do not have an interest in going on to an academic career. But there is a wealth of evidence from every quarter to show what a huge force for good Aaron was in the teaching sphere. As the nomination for the University’s Pilkington Prize for excellence in teaching observed, he had ‘reshaped and reinvigorated International Relations teaching in POLIS across the board’, designing new courses, taking on major responsibilities, and providing expertise on security and U.S. foreign policy which enthralled students trying to make sense of an unstable world. He won the Prize in 2018 to universal pleasure.

Aaron took on a huge work load because he liked young people and he loved his subject. In any case he was a naturally collegial and outgoing person who instinctively used humour to throw light on problems and to keep himself entertained. In doing so he captivated everyone within hearing. That he was able to continue like this for four years while coping with both a series of exhausting treatments and the psychological strain of a dark prognosis is truly remarkable. All of us who worked with him have been humbled by his courage, and by that of his wife Joyce. Together they demonstrated that the power of love is not an empty cliché.

Aaron’s death is first and foremost a terrible blow for his family and those closest to him, including many in POLIS. It is also a great professional loss for the Department and for the subject of International Relations, because people with Aaron’s special qualities, intellectual and human, do not come along so often.


There is a comment section below where staff and students are able to leave their memories of Aaron which will be passed on to the family. Please login to leave a comment, thank you.

Cerys Thomas says:
Jul 01, 2019 01:51 PM

Aaron was such an amazing person to know and work alongside of- we will all miss him greatly. says:
Jul 01, 2019 04:37 PM

Aaron was an exceedingly bright individual and an exceptionally amazing human being. We lost somebody amazing and special who will be dearly missed. says:
Jul 01, 2019 04:40 PM

Every sentence, every comment, every observation of Aaron managed to unite humorous wit alongside the profoundest of analysis. What a gift! What a role model!

Dr Thomas Maguire says:
Jul 01, 2019 04:43 PM

I worked with Aaron on his US Foreign Policy module this past year, and he was an incredibly helpful and thoughtful manager who displayed a remarkable dedication to delivering high-quality teaching to our students in the face of his health challenges. His contribution to students in POLIS will be much missed, and I will miss the chance to teach with him once again. says:
Jul 01, 2019 04:52 PM

Aaron's passion for teaching and interest in students - both current and prospective - has been a great example. Rest well Aaron.

Dr Glen Rangwala says:
Jul 01, 2019 04:53 PM

There are many more things to miss about Aaron than I can possibly list here. But one among them: the radio-friendly American 1980s/90s 'rock' music coming out of Aaron’s tinny speakers down the POLIS corridor at 6pm many evenings when the last student had gone – provoking faux but hilarious debates about topics like the decline of modern culture, the causes of Trumpism, and why America thinks it is Different. It exemplified his irreverence, his sense of fun especially in bad taste, and yes even sometimes his insight. says:
Jul 01, 2019 05:07 PM

I had the honour and privilege to temporarily work with Dr. Aaron and benefit from his notable expertise. He was a great lecturer and will be highly missed. says:
Jul 02, 2019 01:09 AM

It is devastating to lose Aaron - a wonderful, warm and generous human being. When I heard the news I just wanted to rage about the unfairness of it - but then I remembered that Aaron never did; he just kept on being Aaron. We'll miss you my friend. says:
Jul 02, 2019 08:54 AM

I owe a lot to Aaron, not least the chance to come here and learn from him. He was always immensely generous with his time, knowledge and good humour. His enthusiasm to share his views and jokes on anything from his work on the public perception of going to war to the latest Star Wars film made bumping into him around college, POLIS, or in the street one of the day’s unexpected pleasures. says:
Jul 02, 2019 09:09 AM

Although he only taught me briefly, from the start Aaron was engaging, knowledgable and had a sense of humour that really made him and his lectures stand out. His dedication to teaching the POL 14 paper resonated with many 3rd years - and sparked envy amongst those who had passed up the pleasure to be taught by him further. He’s been an inspiring member of the faculty, and I send my condolences and thoughts to his family at this difficult time says:
Jul 02, 2019 09:54 AM

Aaron, you are deeply missed and forever remembered. You are the reason I am here, and you will always inspire me. We will all remember you as the true and brilliant scholar, the witty and wonderful lecturer, the fantastic supervisor, and as the generous, smart, and caring person you were. You have accomplished so much and still had so much more to give. Rest well, Aaron. says:
Jul 02, 2019 11:11 AM

Aaron, there are no words for how grateful I am to have been your student. Not only were you a brilliant scholar with an encyclopedic knowledge of the literature even outside your immediate field, you were a funny, kind, and thoughtful human. You made POLIS a warmer place. I'll miss our meetings, your ability to dispel my thesis angst with an irreverent joke, and your passionate but never defeatist outrage about contemporary politics. Thank you for your generosity, time, and insight. You set a brilliant example, both as a scholar and a human being. Rest easy, Aaron. says:
Jul 02, 2019 12:35 PM

Aaron was what I always looked for when coming to Cambridge: an amazing command of his subject, ability to make original observations that made us regret we hadn't thought of that before, all combined with a unique skill to present his subject in a simple, conversational manner. I remember regretting my studies at POLIS were coming to an end because I would not listen to his lectures any more. Today I'm happy I had a chance to experience them.
Aaron's style helped me to rediscover my passion for international relations after I thought I had lost it. I will always be grateful to Aaron for that. says:
Jul 02, 2019 08:49 PM

The Cambridge community has lost an intellectual giant and a loyal friend.

I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Aaron Rapport throughout my time at Cambridge. From conducting my admissions interview to selecting me as his thesis advisee, Aaron made an indelible impact on me by showing me that it was impossible to learn without first daring to fail.

I will forever be thankful for the opportunity to learn first-hand from his thoughtful guidance, bibliographic knowledge, and searing wit, and hope one day to fulfill his desire to "create future peers". says:
Jul 03, 2019 08:35 AM

One of my favourite lectures in first year was given by Dr. Rapport. While not encountering him since, I remember what a mark his humour, eloquence and passion made on me in a mere 60 minutes. says:
Jul 03, 2019 09:54 AM

Dr. Rapport was a brilliant lecturer and a favorite of our cohort. We were excited about the course even before it started, as the reading list was so well put together and even the order in which the articles were listed hinted towards a larger argument. That the lectures were brilliant is an understatement. What really set Dr. Rapport apart was his engagement with the topic, the strength of arguments, and a witty sense of humor. It was such a joy and a privilege to study with him and it is with extreme sadness that we hear the news. Thank you, Dr. Rapport, for the joyful introduction to IR, and for teaching us with such a big heart in the midst of the big battle. You will always be remembered fondly and with the greatest respect and admiration. says:
Jul 03, 2019 10:43 AM

Aaron was my Director of Studies and my International Relations supervisor. He made Cambridge seem a much less scary and lonely place. We were devastated when we found out he was ill, we will always remember him. says:
Jul 03, 2019 12:46 PM

I taught on one of Aaron's courses, his reading lists were magical, he did not teach students about a topic, he taught them how to think about a topic and that is very very special. He had amazing energy, and I cannot think of that as gone, instead I will think of him adding that bit of extra energy around us... says:
Jul 03, 2019 07:51 PM

Not just a scholar and a lecturer but a teacher. In the purest sense of the word. A great loss says:
Jul 03, 2019 09:10 PM

Dr Rapport was honestly the highlight of teaching for me at Cambridge. The care and passion he had for his subject allowed us, his students, to share in his appreciation, and I never missed a lecture because of this. What was more of a joy was he interspersed his analysis was a biting sense of humour. The ability to mock the bleak reality of international politics was most useful, and occasionally highlighted by stories of his time in a frat. He taught us right until the end, and still managed to keep things funny (including the acronym B.I.S.H when thinking of our examiners). His death highlights how cruel the world can be to even the best among us, and my thoughts are with his family at this difficult time. says:
Jul 04, 2019 04:20 PM

Aaron, I remember you saying that you kept all of the thank-you emails and cards that your students wrote to you. It is a huge regret of mine that I never got to write one for you- 'after exams' became 'after results' became 'after graduation', and now here I am. I'm sure, however, that you wouldn't be surprised by my tardiness.

I wanted to tell you that I really owe so much to you, not least my love of international relations. I attended a pre-application access event in 2015, where you gave a lecture, and it was after that that I decided I definitely wanted to apply to Cambridge. I was so excited by the fact that there were academics at Cambridge who were giving up their time to encourage students - like me! - to apply to the university. The way you spoke about IR, and the humour you injected into it, made it so accessible. It was in lectures with you that I felt the most at home in my degree, because you had this unique style of connecting humour, cultural references, moral lessons, contemporary examples, and theory in a way which not only made me feel like I was learning, but that I could contribute to the discussion myself. I took US Foreign Policy in my final year, and it was absolutely my favourite paper of my degree. It may not sound particularly notable, but it was the only course for which I attended every single lecture! Many other people have expressed it more eloquently than I could, but I am so grateful for the time that you put into that course. Not only were your supervisions engaging and fun, but they were the envy of those of us on the course who weren’t being supervised by you that week. I am so grateful for the extra reading you set me on racism in foreign policy, and the time you allowed me to ‘geek out’ over the niches of social IR theory on the walk back from a lecture. You gave your time and attention so generously, in a way that made students feel like valued members of a community.

Put simply, you were one of the best, and you’ll be greatly missed. Thank you for everything.

Rhiannon says:
Jul 04, 2019 08:38 PM

Aaron went out of his way to put his students at ease in his supervisions, and made us laugh in every lecture (something few Cambridge lecturers can say). He has my eternal admiration and gratitude for the way he treated each and every one of us with great good humour, generosity of spirit, and respect. I was devastated at the news of his illness, and my heart goes out to his family. says:
Jul 05, 2019 02:26 PM

I found out Aaron had passed away on the day of graduation. I wanted to write him an e-mail thanking him for his wonderful teaching but the opportunity had passed. He was a fantastic teacher and person. My heart goes out to his family and friends during this difficult time. says:
Jul 07, 2019 03:36 PM

Aaron made me look forward to every supervision; not only due to his warm humour but also due to his incredible command of his subject and ability to communicate it. Our conversations flew by and I always left feeling inspired, challenged and in good spirits. He was a genuinely great person and teacher. My thoughts are with his family at this time. says:
Jul 10, 2019 08:09 AM

I was so sorry to see this news. Working with Aaron was a highlight of my time in the Department, and I've always looked back fondly on the memories of his music, his humour and the warmth of his character. Catching snatches of his supervisions whilst walking up and down the corridor always made me a little jealous, wishing I was back as a student and being an unashamed politics geek. My condolences to his family and all his friends in the Department. says:
Jul 11, 2019 02:47 PM

Aaron was the best person for me to have experienced entering Cambridge. He was welcoming and warm, and his humour made it easy to enjoy his supervisions. Even in my interview, when I was so nervous he chatted about my home town and Liam Neeson and made me feel so much more relaxed.
He was a wonderful teacher, intelligent but also always able to bring out the confidence I needed to engage with the material when it felt scary and new. I owe a lot to him and I will greatly miss seeing him around Cambridge. says:
Jul 12, 2019 07:47 PM

Thank you Aaron for being such an inspiring, enthusiastic and passionate lecturer and reader of politics. You will be missed deeply. says:
Jul 13, 2019 12:35 AM

Aaron admitted me to HSPS at Corpus Christi College, and was my supervisor in first year. He was extremely thorough in his comments to my essays, willing to meet up outside of supervision to discuss my work, and even mark essays he wasn’t responsible for.

I was shocked to hear a day before he died that he had terminal cancer; he managed to keep his predicament away from his professional work. Cambridge has lost a great person.


Dr Harald Wydra says:
Jul 18, 2019 04:09 PM

I was devastated hearing the news that Aaron had passed away. I have never met anybody with such a positive outlook on life, such an energy, and generosity. He was always there when needed, either for a chat, for a great laugh, for the newest developments in American foreign policy, or for committing time to students. And he made everything appear so easy, so natural, being always patient, never bothered by the grave concerns that he had to live with in recent years. If other people had only some of these virtues and this positive attitude to life the world would be a better place. May he rest in peace and may his memory stay with us for a very long time. Harald says:
Jul 18, 2019 04:15 PM

Aaron was the funniest, most engaging, most thorough and kindest of my lecturers at Cambridge. I always looked forward to supervisions with him, which were joyful and enlightening in equal measure.

In one of our last interactions, he took the time to explain the nuances of an article to me at length after I'd approached him via email with a question about it. I think that speaks volumes about the care and rigour with which he taught his students.

Aaron was a great person, who will be deeply missed in Cambridge and beyond. It was a privilege to have been taught by him. says:
Jul 21, 2019 01:24 PM

Aaron was a fantastic lecturer - always engaging, insightful and good humoured. His classes were among my favourite throughout my time at Cambridge, and were the only ones where laughter was always guaranteed. His commitment to his students, even through illness, was admirable and deeply appreciated by all who were taught by him.