David Apter, acclaimed political scientist and sociologist and beloved professor emeritus at Yale, died of illness Tuesday. He was 85 years old.
Apter, an expert on democratization and political violence in Africa, Latin America and Asia, both conducted field research and taught at many of the world’s top universities, including Yale, Princeton (where he earned his Ph.D.), Oxford, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study and the Fondation des sciences politiques in Paris. Yale faculty remembered Apter as a deep thinker, a dear friend and a champion of interdisciplinary scholarship.
“David was immensely curious and wonderfully articulate,” said Benjamin Foster, professor of near eastern languages and civilizations. “He loved good conversation, good food and the good life.”
Foster said Apter was an “honorary patron of the humanities” at Yale during his later years, and that he and his wife, Eleanor, used to invite faculty members and their spouses and children to their home every spring. The Apters also held regular gatherings for intellectual discussion, at which faculty members from various departments could share their studies with colleagues in different fields.
Joseph LaPalombra, the Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science and Management Emeritus, said Apter constantly sought to bridge the gap between the social sciences and the humanities as a professor and as a scholar.
Indeed, Apter was a founding fellow of the Whitney Humanities Center, which opened in 1981, and today houses the Directed Studies program for freshman and the undergraduate humanities major. A “celebratory reading” of works by Apter and fellow Yale scholars Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman and John Hollander was scheduled to take place at the Whitney Humanities Center on Wednesday but was postponed until the fall to honor Apter’s death.
Norma Thompson, director of undergraduate studies for the humanities major, said she once team-taught a class called “Democratic Stagecraft” with Apter.
“He was such an original thinker,” she said. “It was clear that he brought a wealth of interests and ideas as background to every text that we covered.”
Apart from his extensive work in political science and sociology — he continued to publish books into the 1990s — Apter was also a skilled photographer. A 2007 exhibit of his work at the Whitney Humanities Center showed photographs taken as part of his research in Japan and China, as well as images of everyday life at his homes in Wallingford, Conn., and France.
Foster’s wife, Karen, also a professor of near eastern languages and civilizations, added that Apter was an extraordinary person and friend.
“His wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, zest for life and genuine interest in other people made him a very special member of the Yale community,” she said.
Among many other honors over his long career, Apter was a Fulbright lecturer and a Phi Beta Kappa lecturer; a Guggenheim fellow and a fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the first recipient of the Foundation Mattei Dogan prize for contributions to interdisciplinary research; and a recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Award by the American Political Science Association. At Yale, Apter was the Henry J. Hainz II Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Sociology.
Apter is survived by his wife, Eleanor, an art historian who formerly worked at the Yale University Art Gallery, his daughter, Emily, a professor of comparative literature and French studies at New York University, and his son, Andrew, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles.