If we are to understand how people make sense of their encounters with heritage sites, and how they incorporate those experiences into their everyday lives, we need to piece together evidence from across a range of research fields. Such research and evaluation is shaped by the needs of professionals working in (for example) heritage and culture, museums, leisure, tourism and memory; all with different approaches, methodologies and theories as to how and why people engage with the past. Visitors’ voices are often lost within, or absent from, the final analysis, leading to broad theories about the importance of heritage to our sense of identity and place but little actual evidence as to how this translates into everyday living. A more coherent approach is needed to bring together the fragmented evidence, one which seeks to understand how our encounters with heritage become part of our everyday lives and what it means to be ‘historically conscious’ or aware of having a past, present and future. The theory of ‘historical consciousness’ is not new but it is one that could be developed to unite the seemingly disparate fields of heritage, history and memory, all of which are concerned about our relationship with the past and how we make sense of that past in the present, individually and collectively, officially and unofficially. It also unites our awareness of the past with a concern for the future, reinforcing the potentially critical social role that heritage sites could play in helping to shape what those future possibilities might be.