One of the largest museums in Amsterdam, the museum accommodates eight permanent exhibitions and an ongoing series of temporary exhibitions, including both modern and traditional visual arts and photographic works. The Tropenmuseum is owned and operated by the Royal Tropical Institute, a foundation that sponsors the study of tropical cultures around the world. The museum had 176,000 visitors in 2009.<ref name="176kvisitors">Template:Cite web</ref>
Frederick van Eeden, father of the writer Frederik van Eeden, and secretary of the Maatschappij ter bevordering van Nijverheid (Template:Lang-en) established the Koloniaal Museum (Template:Lang-en) in Haarlem in 1864,<ref name="date" /> and opened the museum to the public in 1871.<ref name="Tropenmuseum about">Template:Cite web Template:Dead link</ref> The museum was founded in order to show Dutch overseas possessions, and the inhabitants of these foreign countries, such as Indonesia. In 1871 the institute began research to increase profits made off the colonies. This included attempting to develop improved means of producing coffee beans, rotan and paraffin. The museum came under the influence of ethnologists, who added information on the economy, manners, and customs of the inhabitants. In 1926, they inaugurated the current building in East Amsterdam. At the time, they had 30,000 objects, and a sizable collection of photographs.<ref name="Tropenmuseum about" />
Following the independence of Indonesia in 1945, the scope of the museum changed from just the colonial possessions of the Netherlands, to that of many undeveloped colonial states in South America, Africa, and Asia. In the 1960s and 1970s the Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken Template:Lang-en encouraged the museum to expand its scope to more social issues such as poverty and hunger. In the early 1970s a new wing for children was added. This wing is now called Tropenmuseum Junior.<ref name="Tropenmuseum about" />
The Tropenmuseum has now started to use semi-permanent exhibits that focus both on domestic and foreign cultures.
The original building, built in 1926, was designed by J. J. van Nieukerken and M. A. van Nieukerken. It was richly decorated for the time, and took 11 years to build due to World War I and various labor strikes.<ref name="KIThistory" /> All of the artwork in the building was created in the first half of the 20th century. In 2003 it was listed as a historical building in Amsterdam.<ref name="Tropenmuseum about" />
The museum houses 175,000 objects, 155,000 photographs and 10,000 miscellaneous drawings, paintings, and documents. It inherited 15,000 of these from the Ethnographisch Museum Artis. These objects are split up into many collections. The museum houses collections for many geographical areas such as Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. They also have several collections in storage that fall outside of their scope. These include collections for China, Japan, Korea, and Europe.
The photography collection consists mainly of historical photographs of the former Dutch Colonies from 1855–1940. The museum released a large number of photographs under a Creative Commons licence to the Wikimedia Commons.<ref name="collaboration">Template:Cite news</ref>
A theatric collection is housed at the Tropenmuseum as well. The collection houses 5,500 musical instruments as well as various other theatrical objects such as masks and puppets. It also features 21,000 textile artifacts, a majority of which are from Indonesia. Tropenmuseum Junior is a sub-museum. It features interactive exhibits, and draws 30,000 children a year.<ref name="Tropenmuseum about" />
The Tropenmuseum announced in May 2013 that because of budget cuts (subsidies from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were cut completely) the library will close and sell of its holdings, some 900,000 books, maps, and other items. The public library had already closed and other library services were to follow, with the loss of all but one of the 33 library staff.
The Tropenmuseum is the most visible part of the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (KIT) (Template:Lang-en). The Colonial Institute and the Colonial Museum merged in 1910, to form KIT.<ref name="KIThistory">Template:Cite web</ref> KIT is an organization meant to increase public awareness of other cultures, and communicate between cultures. The Tropenmuseum, as part of the KIT, works with foreign exhibits to exhibit and catalog their collections.<ref name="Tropenmuseum about" />