THESIS: How to Evaluate UNESCO World Heritage? Entry by Sarah Reddan

For my thesis for my Masters of Science in Historic Preservation, I wanted to further explore UNESCO World Heritage.  I was interested in the organization, its impacts, and how the program can be made better as ideas and needs change.  Having visited quite a few World Heritage Sites and interning with US/ICOMOS, I decided to embark on researching how to evaluate UNESCO World Heritage for my thesis.

I talked about the background of the development of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in this post.  However, there have been many critics about the World Heritage program since its development.  These critics include the politics surrounding how sites are chosen for designation, the role economics plays in the agenda for designation, the effects of mass tourism at a site post-designation, and the lack of involvement or focus on communities at the heritage sites.

Dresden’s Bridge across the Elbe River (Source: BBC,

The primary aim of my thesis is to understand the way in which different indicators of success are applied to World Heritage Sites, and how these may need to evolve as the program matures and societal conditions and challenges change.  The current indicators are focused on the value and fabric of the site, which is a problem due to the fact that people and places are connected and can lead to consequences (often unintended and/or unexamined) for communities.  I am in the midst of researching the organization and analyzing the discourse surrounding World Heritage in the media and scholarly articles.

In attempting to understand how to more effectively evaluate World Heritage Sites, the following questions were used to target and direct my research:

  • How is the success of World Heritage sites perceived and evaluated?
  •  How is success being defined under World Heritage guidelines and processes?
  •  How are current discourse and issues at World Heritage Sites challenging those definitions?
  • What additional indicators of success are important to identify and incorporate in decision making?
  • What current tools or methods are used to evaluate that success?


Cover photo: Tourists at Machu Picchu (Source: SBS,