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Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS)

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.


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