We encounter information about the past in everyday life through films, books and complex historical sources – such as historic sites or eyewitness accounts. Investigations of how visitors and learners engage with these complex historical sources have mainly focused on the ‘something special’ of the encounter on the one hand and on the clear cognitive engagement on the other. Yet, we know little about what and how learners and visitors learn from these complex historical sources and the resultant historical experiences. However, it is an important precondition for further theoretical and empirical research to fully understand these experiences. This article takes the first step in building an integrated model to understand from a situated embodied perspective the historical experiences derived from encounters with complex historical sources. Drawing on German- and English-language literature across related disciplines, we conceptualized the experience within an interplay of cognitive, affective and physical engagement. Within these dimensions, we identified responses that indicate the different elements of the historical experience and discuss limitations and avenues for further research.