Kenefick, Billy


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1993 …2020

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Personal profile


My interest in history was reinvigorated working in the North Sea oil industry between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s. As a workers’ representative I wanted to know more about the history of work and workers' responses to the changing nature of work and industry over time. I looked to distance learning and enrolled on various correspondence courses to find out more and from then I was hooked!

Redundancy followed in 1986, and after a year at college and finishing my year one Open University Foundation Module, I began my degree at the University of Strathclyde in 1987. Four years on I emerged with a First-Class Degree in Economic and Social History. I then embarked on a postgraduate degree in 1991 and three years later secured a position as lecturer in modern Scottish History at the University of Dundee. I attained my PhD in 1995 specialising in maritime labour and social history: a labour historian who worked in heavy industry and the rigs!

I was later promoted Senior Lecturer and in the meantime published widely on Scottish maritime and labour history, Irish and Jewish relations in Scotland from c1870 to present, the impact of the Great War and the Russian Revolution on the Scottish working class, and Scottish labour politics and the Dundee working class in the early twentieth century.

In preparation for the 100th anniversary commemorations of the First World War 2014-2019 my research focused closely on the role of war resisters and Conscientious Objectors at Dundee and across Scotland at the time of the First World War. I retired early in 2016 and was awarded the title Honorary Senior Research Fellow in History and Information Studies, in the School of Humanities.


Before retiring I acted as coordinator, lecturer, and tutor at Level 1 – Age of Revolution (a team-taught core history module) - through level 2 to Level 4, including coordinating and teaching a two-paper level 4 special subject Scotland c. 1900 to 1922: Discontent, War and the impact of Revolution. I co-coordinated a popular Level 3 Honours module The Scottish Soldier: Image and Reality, c.1870 to 1922 (with Dr. Derek Patrick), Britain and War: The South African War and the First World War, and Dundee: A City at War (taught partly at level two, and examined in great detail at level four), examining the impact of war from a comparative micro-history perspective).

These modules represented my ongoing research interest which was further developed alongside the formation and co-management of the Great War Dundee Commemorative Project (for GWD project see below). More recently I developed a first level module Post War Scotland c.1918-1929 - a Dundee perspective (2020-2021).

I have also acted as dissertation supervisor to many students over my twenty-two-year tenure at Dundee University: a role I continue in academic session 2020-2021 in marking and assessing Level 4 History Dissertations.

Research Supervision (c. 2000 to 2016)

I have supervised (and/or co-supervised) seven PhD thesis, several MLitts and one MPhil (by distance learning on Family History) subjects included:

  • The English in Scotland, 1945 -2000
  • Emigration from Scotland to Queensland, 1885 to 1888
  • Scottish Culture and the First World War
  • The Political History of Women in Scotland c.1918 to the 1960s
  • An Analysis of Scotland's Education Democracy in Higher Education, 1850 to 2000
  • Industrial and political radicalism in Perthshire, c.1870-1929
  • Jewish Identity and Attitudes toward Militarism in Scotland c.1899-1939
  • The Scottish War Memorial, Buenos Aires: A Re-Affirmation of Scottish Identity in the Argentine Republic?
  • Mobilisation of Scottish Children in the 42nd military District during the Great War.

I also acted as PhD examiner at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Strathclyde, an MLitt at Glasgow University, and was external examiner for the School of History, University of St Andrews, from 2015 and 2019.


Exploring the impact of the First World War on Dundee and Scotland has been a major research interest since the publication of an article 'War Resisters and Anti-Conscription in Scotland: an ILP Perspective', published in Macdonald, C. C. M. and McFarland, E. (eds.), Scotland and the Great War (East Linton, 1999): which was advanced on in Red Scotland! The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left c.1872-1932 (Edinburgh University Press), 2007.

This line of research has been further enhanced through an active association with the Great War Dundee (GWD) Commemorative Project since its formation in 2012. The GWD group aimed to co-ordinate a city-wide approach to the centenary commemoration (2014-2019) of the First World War in Dundee, bringing the community together with the city’s museums, archives, libraries, schools and societies and various programmes from the University of Dundee through a plan of activities that encouraged the broadest possible public participation and collective reminiscence.

As a result of GWD’s growing reputation in public history the project entered into partnership with the BBC World War One @ Home series of commemoration events including one at Dundee to mark the beginning of World War One in 2014. With Dr Derek Patrick, I was part of an AHRC funded project to work with the BBC World War One @ Home to work specifically on Scotland and the Great War. Later in 2015 we contributed to a national event sponsored by the Scottish Government and WW100 Scotland to mark the Scottish commemoration of the Battle of Loos, held in Dundee.

GWD was funded by the Heritage Lottery on two separate occasions between 2014 and 2016 and 2018 to 2019 – attracting over £112, 000 in funding. GWD was to win the prestigious Stephen Fry award for excellence in public engagement in 2016. The good work continued as the second funded project got underway through to the last official event held in September 2019 with the publications and launch of Pat Mill’s Great War Dundee graphic novel and GWD booklet Hidden Histories.

During this period GWD worked closely with DC Thomson producing many newspapers articles and ten First World War supplements produced over the 100th anniversary period of the Great War 2014-2019. GWD also worked with the Abertay Historical Society to produce - in nine chapters - Tayside at War (2018), edited by William Kenefick and Derek Patrick. GWD completed its work in January 2020 but its impact lives on through its publications and Great War Dundee website.

Research interests

I maintain a keen research interest in British maritime labour history and the role of the Irish in emergent national dock unionism in Scotland; and the rise of the Independent Labour Party, and the growth of the Scottish trade union movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - with a particular focus on labour politics in Dundee c.1890 and 1936.

I have researched and published on the role of radical Scots in the South African trade union and labour movement before 1914; the activities of female textile workers in Dundee and East Scotland during the ‘Great’ Labour Unrest c.1910-1914; and several comparative studies of the impact of the Great War and the Russian Revolution on Aberdeen and Dundee.

My research interest continues with a focus on the First World War and its impact on Scottish politics and society, and aspects of economic and cultural change in the post war era. Looking forward, we near another 100th anniversary and the occasion when Winston Churchill lost his seat in Dundee in November 1922.

Churchill rarely visited Dundee during the 14 years he served as one of its two MPs (in a two-seat constituency), but he was returned to Westminster on five occasions between 1908 and 1918 (including two by-elections in 1908 when he was first elected and 1917). This was a momentous period in British and World history and for Churchill himself, and for the city of Dundee which he represented.

He served as a cabinet minister and was a leading political figure, rubbing shoulders with the great and the good, and in truth some less deserving of such high praise. Yet, his relationship with Dundee and his electors was far from smooth and their view of him is far from positive, and his legacy is without doubt controversial. It is no exaggeration to say that generations of Dundonians have passed down strong views on his time in the city.

Working with Dr Kenneth Baxter we will investigate why the very mention of Churchill’s name in Dundee still prompts heated debate. This project ‘Churchill: The Dundee Years 1908 to 1922’, will examine why he suffered such a heavy defeat in 1922, and closely investigate the turnaround in Churchill’s political fortunes particularly between the election of 1918 and 1922.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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