Mark D. Kaplanoff ’66
Bequest to support Academy Library

It could be said that Mark Kaplanoff ’66 was born to teach. Even from an early age, his passion for American history was palpable. Mark’s Exeter classmate and friend Jim Brandi ’66 recalls that Mark was already doing major historical research while at Exeter on the politics that led to New Hampshire’s transformation from an English colony to a free-standing state during the Federalist period. He was also a gifted conversationalist who, according to former advisee John Palfrey ’90, could be “maddeningly insightful.”

Mark, who spent seven months a year teaching at Cambridge’s Pembroke College and the other five in his native San Francisco, died unexpectedly in March 2001, having devoted his entire professional life to academia, and in particular to the students with whom he lived and worked. “In the greatest Oxbridge tradition,” says Palfrey, “Mark focused on teaching students.”

Mark’s respect for the students under his tutelage was evident in the down-to-earth manner in which he interacted with them and in the long-term friendships he established with so many. Guy Black, another of Mark’s former students and the current Director of the United Kingdom’s Press Complaints Commission, says Mark was “known for taking supervisions in his tennis gear.” “He was the single most unstuffy person I ever knew. He often managed to teach you far more in a one-hour supervision than you could learn by reading several books.”

Mark’s enthusiasm for his academic work brought him many senior year accolades at the Academy, including prizes in English and History, membership in the Cum Laude society and the position of class valedictorian. His career as an American historian evolved during three decades at Cambridge University. Graduating from Yale in 1970, summa cum laude, he won a prestigious Henry Fellowship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he similarly earned a first class honours degree in 1972. His outstanding doctoral and post-doctoral work earned him a research fellowship at Peterhouse and then a Keasbey Fellowship at Selwyn College, Cambridge. In 1979, Mark was promoted to a permanent post at Cambridge, a University Lectureship, at which time he was also elected a fellow of Pembroke College.

Although Mark did not publish voluminously, his scholarship was widely recognized for its incisiveness and elegance. His first love and primary focus, however, was working with students. In a memorial piece written for the Pembroke Gazette, Mark’s former student and Pembroke colleague Dr. Jonathan Parry observed: “Cultivating a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity in the young was his goal and his hallmark as a teacher, and none of his students could doubt the quality of his learning, lightly worn, the breadth of his scholarship, or his concern for their welfare.” Rob Shapiro ’68, who got to know Mark when the two were at Trinity College, Cambridge, in the early 1970s, says, “He used his intellect to its best effect, sharing his own ideas and insights and helping others to expand their intellectual reach. He was the kind of person that Exeter aspires to produce.”

Mark’s passion for the world of academia will live on through the generous bequest he made to Exeter. His gift will be used to support the Academy’s reference librarian position and the acquisition of electronic databases for the Academy Library. In honor of his benefaction, the periodicals room on the Library’s ground floor will be named “The Kaplanoff Room.” Academy Librarian Jacquelyn Thomas says Mark’s gift will enhance the Academy Library’s place as the foremost secondary school library in the world because of the key databases she and her staff will now be able to purchase and instruct students in using.

Mark’s former colleagues and friends will remember him for his many endearing attributes, particularly his generosity of spirit. However, the greatest and most Exonian contribution he made to his vocation (indeed to the world) may have been his talent for recognizing and fanning the spark of a new idea or theory in his students. For his dedication to the life of the mind, a keenness no doubt awakened and nurtured by Exeter’s own master teachers, we can all be grateful.