Emeritus Professor Vivian Bickford-Smith received his PhD from Cambridge University and specialises in modern history with a South African regional focus. His research has been mainly in three sometimes overlapping areas: urban history, film and history, and ethnicity and nationalism. Within all three, Vivian has been particularly interested in exploring the creation, interaction and perception of supposedly discrete ethnic, racial and national identities, ambivalence in terms of such identities, and creolisation. He has also been interested in exploring methods, consequences and motivations behind how the past has been conveyed in specific written and visual forms such as cinematic history and popular or official city history books.
In terms of urban history, many publications have been on the history of Cape Town. He is currently writing a book for Cambridge University Press on cities and identities in twentieth century South Africa with particular reference to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The book deals with the way particular identities have been created, challenged and changed for each city. The book also examines identities associated with attachments to particular places within the three cities and how South African urbanity in general has been judged over time and with what consequences.
In July 2011, he organised a conference on ‘Shadow Cities’ (self-built housing in cities on different continents and over time) in London. The conference was a collaboration between the Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research, University of London and the University of Cape Town. In July 2010, he organized the Cities and Nationalism Conference, in London.
Vivian is on the Editorial Advisory Boards of South African Historical Journal, Urban History, Journal of Urban History and International Journal of Regional and Local History.