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Making Muhammad Ali’s Legacy Accessible 

“Bigger than boxing. Larger than life.” 

Those are the words announcing the September 19th premiere of the new Ken Burns documentary on PBS about Muhammad Ali. As the PBS website notes, “Ali insisted on being himself unconditionally and became a global icon and inspiration to people everywhere.”  

Why, you might ask, am I writing about the new Ken Burns documentary? Because HistoryIT recently had the privilege of making it possible for the Muhammad Ali Center to create a digital museum that showcases Ali’s life and legacy. The Ali Center collections team has done an incredible job making primary source materials and curated experiences easily accessible to the public.

This partnership is different than some of the others I’ve shared about, and it’s a great example of how we work with organizations in various ways according to their needs, preferences and budgets.

In this case, we did not undertake preservation imaging or metadata creation for their collections. Instead, we examined their electronic records previously stored in another collection management software then built a plan to make them much more accessible and visually engaging. We established a system for reorganizing their metadata (descriptive info and tags) and then over a period of only a few weeks, we migrated their metadata and about 8,000 assets into our Odyssey Preservation Software. Our partners at the Ali Center then worked diligently to enhance their existing metadata, expand their digital collections and launch their digital museum. 

Before Odyssey, the Ali Center did not have a public-facing digital museum that could be accessed and searched by outsiders. Our Odyssey Preservation Software includes a module that allows users to easily and quickly set up and manage digital museum sites. Our software creates an engaging presentation for the individual components as well as curated pieces, such as exhibits and timelines. Because Odyssey is cloud-based, users can access it from anywhere, which was an especially advantageous benefit this past year with so many working from home.  

I’d like to take a moment to highlight a few sections of the Ali Center’s digital museum to give you a better idea of what stories you might find there and to showcase the customization capabilities within Odyssey. The Ali Center’s collections team has created an oral histories section containing audio interviews with people ranging from Ali’s 8th grade music teacher to the woman who witnessed and recorded Ali talking a young man off a building ledge. The digital museum has an Objects and Art section showcasing items such as the commemorative ashtray given to press who covered the 1971 World Heavyweight Title fight between Ali and Joe Frazier. They’ve also included a fun Pop Culture section presenting items such as a Superman vs Muhammad Ali DC Comic, a Muhammad Ali action figure and a commemorative $2 bill. It also has a Publications section with newspaper clippings and Ali’s junior high school yearbook, as well as a featured exhibit titled World Stage: An Olympic Introduction to the Greatest of All Time, a tribute to the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, the first international triumph for Ali, at the time known as Cassius Clay.

The Muhammad Ali Center Digital Museum has a number of other features, but perhaps most notably the entire site is easily navigated and completely searchable. Users can intuitively locate search and filter functions that narrow content by categories, such as personal life, boxing career, general history, religion, and humanitarianism and social justice. This accessibility allows visitors to deep dive into what sparks their personal curiosity and draw independent conclusions based on their discoveries. That ability for self discovery is at the core of why we do what we do.

HistoryIT didn’t create this impressive digital museum — we just invented the software that made it possible. We are incredibly proud of the dedication and hard work that the Ali Center team put into creating this valuable resource.  

So after you watch “Muhammad Ali” on PBS, follow up with some personal research and explore the Ali Center’s digital museum. We love a good Ken Burns special, but nothing beats direct access to primary source materials. 

Learn more about our Odyssey Preservation Software and what it can do for your organization. Drop us a line anytime — we love to talk history.

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