There are various areas to deal with the life and the writings of Johann Heinrich von Thuenen. The “Isolated State” and its model of the Thuenen Rings initiated important research in a lot of academic disciplines. But there are deficiencies, like for example the lack of a complete edition of von Thuenens writings or the need for an english translation of the second and third part of the “Isolated State”. It would also be neccessary to bring the printed work of von Thuenen face to face with the drafts collected in the von Thuenen-Archive. These factors surely would enhance academic research.
It have primarily been the economics, especially national economics, who at first took notice of von Thuenens writings in a transregional context. Focusing on the “Isolated State”, four key aspects emerged: The “Grenzproduktivitätstheorie”; his reflections concerning the choice of location; his theory of wages and distribution and his theory of funds. Especially in geographical economics, von Thuenens location theory is a fundamental basis. A lot of english articles relating to this theory of von Thuenen have been published over the last years. For example an essay about criminality, casinos and capital in New Jersey (A. J. Buck, J. Deutsch, S. Hakim, U. Spiegel, J. A. Weinblatt: Von Thunen model of crime, casinos and property-values in New-Jersey. – In: Urban studies 28 (1991) 5. – S. 673-686). Also, controversial top economist Paul Krugman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the most prominent faces of researching von Thuenens economic aspects.
Agricultural economics relatively late began to recognise the von Thuenen writings. In the beginning of the 20th century, agronomics Theodor Brinkmann and Friedrich Aeroboe used von Thuenens ideas to renew the theory of rural business operations, making it being accepted as a independent discipline. Later, mainly Asmus Petersen, disciple of Aereboe, gave the academic researches about von Thuenen a significant uplift which still continues to have an effect today. Besides theoretical aspects he always looked for practical utilization. His book dealing with the “Isolated State” (1944) still is one of the standard references concerning von Thuenen. Today, similar to economics, especially questions of space development and usage are important concerning von Thuenen in agricultural economics.
From a humane discipline point of view, engaging into von Thuenen has great potential (see biographies of Hermann Schumacher, Asmus Petersen and Renate Hippauf) – not only in a biographical sense. Especially after the Second World War, approaches were made to break the biographical fixation and to open up research for a more agricultural and historical context. The 1940/50s have therefore been the most productive period of historical von Thuenen research, when the von Thuenen-Archive had been an independent institute. This promising start, however, came to an end already in the mid-50s when the “Modern Rostock Thuenen-Research” had been exposed to a massive ideological pressure. It was not until the von Thuenen bicentenary in the 80s that the research finally recovered. In contrast to the 1950s results, the East German researched produced a more differentiated evaluation of von Thuenens achievements and personality. Founding a research site for von Thuenen in 1999 reinforced the intention to cultivate this tradition. But in spite of the impressive results, research still is at its beginning. Intensifying the dialogue with economists and agronomists would have a great impact on every side.
For von Thuenen the social and economic problems of his time were inseperately connected. He focused on theoretically and practically resolving the “social question”, a topic raising philosophical problems he commented on. According to the leading expert in this field Werner Wilhelm Engelhardt, von Thuenen had a “Kant-oriented scientific insight” (Werner Wilhelm Engelhardt: Beiträge zur Thünen-Forschung. Regensburg 2000). First reflections about the relation of philosophy and economics in the oeuvre of von Thuenen are to be found 1913 in Arno Friedrichs „Klassische Philosophie und Wirtschaftswissenschaft”. In 1922, cologne business economist Erich Gutenberg took his degree by writing about „Thünens Isolierter Staat als Fiktion“ (The Isolated State of Thuenen as fiction). He oriented on the fictionalism of Hans Vaihinger, who founded his own version of positivism. Werner Wilhelm Engelhardt and others also connected von Thuenens methodology and contentual theory with the philosophy of science of Karl Popper.
So far, dealing with the application of science by von Thuenen plays a subordinated role in academic research. Application and creation of knowledge in chemistry and biology is related to the requirements of his agricultural activity and therefore always touches agronomical aspects.
Kurt Rauhe and Ingeborg Lehne, who in 1983 talked about the “statics of cultivation rom a scientific view” on a Thuenen-Symposium at the University of Rostock attested that the works of von Thuenen still have a lot of importance today (Kurt Rauhe; Ingeborg Lehne: Über die „Statik des Landbaues“ aus der heutigen naturwissenschaftlichen Sicht. – In: Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Wilhelm-Pieck-Universität Rostock, Naturwissenschaftliche Reihe; Rostock 33/ 1984). According to them, von Thuenen and Carl von Wulffen formed the basis of our “Humusersatzwirtschaft”. During the 1950s Asmus Petersen had a similar view.
Besides examining the problem of soil statics, scientific research has to be extended.
Mathematics played a major role in the life of Johann Heinrich von Thuenen. His “Isolated State” is filled with formulas, which led Wilhelm Roschner to the statement that “everything he researched only seemed complete for him if he was able to express it in an algebraic formula”. According to Werner Wilhelm Engelhardt, von Thuenen as one of the first used different kinds of mathematic branches for his social, economic and agricultural researches. But this did not only create approval. Late until the 20th century von Thuenens mathematics was regarded with reservations, although there were a lot of advocates of it. One of the most influential economists of the 20th century, Joseph A. Schumpeter, already mentioned him in this context in 1906 in an essay about the mathematical method in theoretic economy, published in the paper for economics, social politics and administration. In his 1954 much noticed “History of economic analysis” he locates von Thuenens importance in his own introduction of differential calculus into economics. Similar positive comments come from Walter Braeuer, Richard Krzymowski and Erich Schneider. Wilhelm Scholler in 1949 specifically engaged with the problem of the average distance of a spot from a surface, proposed and resolved by von Thuenen.