Take advantage of the search to browse through the World Heritage Centre information.


James Thorsell


Oral Archives of the
World Heritage Convention

James Thorsell studied science at the University of Alberta and the University of Western Ontario before completing an interdisciplinary PhD with specialization in parks management at the University of British Columbia in 1971.

He began his career as a forest ranger at Banff National Park in 1962, and worked as a researcher and project manager in Canada before becoming involved in international conservation projects. He worked in East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) before moving to IUCN headquarters in Switzerland in 1983. He first headed the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) before taking over responsibility for the World Heritage program which continued until 1998. Under his leadership, field missions were introduced in 1985 for the evaluation of all natural sites nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List. A few years later, the IUCN World Heritage Panel was also created to improve the quality of assessments.

During his career with IUCN, James Thorsell carried out missions to more than 600 protected sites in 90 countries. In this context, he assessed and presented more than 150 properties nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List. In addition, he is an authority for cross-border parks, particularly in mountainous areas. He is the author of more than 300 publications on nature conservation and park management, including World Heritage: Twenty Years Later (IUCN, 1992) et World Heritage Convention: Effectiveness 1992-2002 and Lessons for Governance (IUCN and Parks Canada, 2003). In recognition of his significant contribution to the conservation of protected areas, he was awarded the 2004 IUCN Fred Packard Award and the Parks Canada Harkin Award in 2007.

Interview with
James Thorsell
11 August 2010, Banff, Canada

The following audio excerpts are from an interview with James Thorsell by Christina Cameron the 11 August 2010 in Banff, Canada. Thorsell explains the prominent role he played in IUCN's World Heritage activities for nearly twenty years and his observations on the evolution of the Convention throughout his career. In that regard, he particularly deplores the consequences of the growing politicization of the Committee on the credibility and quality of the World Heritage List. However, he remains convinced of the positive impact of the Convention on the conservation of many natural sites.

    • 1. The World Heritage Convention
    • 1a. James Thorsell's Involvement and Role in World Heritage
    • 1b. The World Heritage List
    • 1c. Objectives of the World Heritage Convention
    • 1d. Decisions and specific cases that have influenced the implementation of the Convention
    • 1e. Successes and failures of the Convention
    • 1f. General remarks
    • 2. The World Heritage Committee
    • 3. The Advisory Bodies
    • 3a. IUCN's performance: the beginnings of the Convention and evaluation missions
    • 3b. IUCN's performance: Panel, political opposition and monitoring of state of conservation of sites
    • 3c. ICOMOS and ICCROM
    • 4. UNESCO Secretariat

Oral Archives of the
World Heritage Convention

Under the leadership of the Canada Research Chair on Built Heritage at the University of Montreal, an international team of researchers conducts interviews with pioneers of World Heritage to capture memories of important moments in the history of UNESCO Convention.

Launched in 2006, this initiative is part of the UNESCO History project that celebrated the 60th anniversary of the creation of UNESCO. The Oral Archives project records the precious witness of people closely associated with the creation and implementation of the Convention. Their recollections and views have greatly enriched the book by Christina Cameron and Mechtild Rössler, Many Voices, One Vision: The Early Years of the World Heritage Convention (Ashgate/Routledge, 2013).

Listen more Interviews

Keywords 1
Date Start: Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Date end: Wednesday, 11 August 2010