The name "Dundee" is made up of two parts: the Scots Gaelic place-name element dùn, meaning fort; and a second, enigmatic element, which may derive from the Gaelic "dèagh", meaning 'fire' or from "Tay".
The area surrounding the modern city has been continuously occupied since the Mesolithic. From the Iron Age, through to the early Medieval period, the area formed a demesne controlled from the Law Hill fort.
The earldom of Dundee was granted by charter by King William to his younger brother, David (later Earl of Huntingdon) in the late 12th century. The situation of the town and David's promotion of it as a trading centre, lead to a period of prosperity and growth. The earldom was passed down to David's descendants amongst whom was John Balliol, the town becoming a Royal Burgh on the coronation of John as king in 1292. Burghal status was revoked during the First War of Independence and subsequently renewed by charter from Robert the Bruce in 1327.
The town suffered large scale destruction during the rough wooing of 1544 to 1551. In 1645, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Dundee was again besieged, this time by the Royalist Marquess of Montrose. The town was finally destroyed by Parliamentarian forces, led by George Monk in 1651. The town became an early site of support for the Jacobite cause when John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee raised the Stuart standard on Dundee Law in 1689, earning him the nickname Bonnie Dundee.
Dundee greatly expanded in size during the Industrial Revolution mainly because of the burgeoning British Empire trade, flax and then latterly the jute industry. By the end of the 19th century, a majority of the city's workers were employed in its many jute mills and in related industries. Dundee's location on a major estuary allowed for the easy importation of jute from the Indian subcontinent as well as whale oil—needed for the processing of the jute—from the city's large whaling industry. The industry began to decline in the 20th century as it became cheaper to process the cloth on the Indian subcontinent. The city's last jute mill closed in the 1970s.
The city is also became known for smaller industries, notably the production of Keiller's marmalade, and the publishing firm DC Thomson & Co., which was founded in the city in 1905 and remains the largest employer after the health and leisure industries. Dundee was said to be built on the 'three Js': Jute, Jam and Journalism.
Dundee's maritime and shipbuilding industry was once a major economic force. At its height, 200 ships per year were built in there, including Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic research vessel, the RRS Discovery. This ship is now on display at Discovery Point in the city. A significant whaling industry was also based in Dundee, largely existing to supply the jute mills with whale oil. Whaling ceased in 1912 and shipbuilding ceased in 1981.
The town was also the location of one of the worst rail disasters in British history, the Tay Bridge disaster. The first Tay rail bridge, was opened in 1879. It collapsed less than a year later during a storm, as a passenger train passed over it, resulting in the loss of 75 lives.
Dundee became a unitary council area in 1996 under the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994, which gave it a single tier of local government control under the Dundee City Council. The city has two mottos—Latin: Dei Donum (English: Gift of God) and Prudentia et Candore (With Thought And Purity), although usually only the latter is used for civic purposes. Dundee is represented in both the British House of Commons and in the Scottish Parliament. For elections to the European Parliament, Dundee is within the Scotland constituency.
Dundee is one of 32 council areas of Scotland, represented by the Dundee City Council, a local authority composed of 29 elected councillors. Previously the city was a county of a city and later a district of the Tayside region. Council meetings take place in the City Chambers, which opened in 1933 and are located in City Square. The civic head and chair of the council is known as the Lord Provost, a position similar to that of mayor in other cities. The council executive is based in Tayside House, but the council, lead by Bruce Ewart, recently announced plans to demolish it in favour of new premises (Dundee House) on North Lindsay Street.
Prior to 1996, Dundee was governed by the City of Dundee District Council. This was formed in 1975, implementing boundaries imposed in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. Under these boundaries, the Angus burgh and district of Monifieth, and the Perth electoral division of Longforgan (which included Invergowrie) were annexed to the county of the city of Dundee. In 1996, the Dundee City unitary authority was created following impementation of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994. This placed Monifieth and Invergowrie in the unitary authorities of Angus and Perth and Kinross, largely reinstating the pre-1975 county boundaries. Some controversy has ensued as a result of these boundary changes, with Dundee city councillors arguing for the return of Monifieth and Invergowrie in order to subsidise Dundee City Council Tax revenues.
The council was controlled by a minority coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats of 12 councillors, with the support of the Conservatives who had five. Although the Scottish National Party (SNP) was the largest party on the council, with 11 councillors. Elections to the council are on a four year cycle, the most recent as of 2007 being on 3 May 2007. Previously, Councillors were elected from single-member wards by the first past the post system of election, although this changed in the 2007 election, due to the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004. Eight new multi-member wards were introduced, each electing three or four councillors by single transferable vote, to produce a form of proportional representation. The 2007 election resulting in no single party having overall control, with 13 Scottish National Party, 10 Labour, 3 Conservatives, 2 Liberal Democrats, and 1 Independent Councillors. A March 2009 by election in the Maryfield ward changed the balance to 14 Scottish National Party, 9 Labour, 3 Conservatives, 2 Liberal Democrats, and 2 Independent Councillors,